Standing Up for DEI, ESG & Impact Investing

This message is provided solely for information purposes. It does not represent and should not be interpreted as legal, financial, or tax advice.

Written by Rachel J. Robasciotti, CEO & Founder, Adasina Social Capital

Our Industry Under Attack

Photo by John Cameron [https://unsplash.com/photos/red-and-white-coca-cola-signage–_5IRj1F2rY]

DEI, ESG, and impact investing are under threat from a set of coordinated and well-funded1 legal attacks from powerful actors systematically targeting investors pursuing justice and sustainability goals.

For example, investors working to advance racial justice have been accused of racial discrimination via spurious lawsuits2. Similarly, investors collaborating to advance sustainability have been falsely accused of antitrust activity in Congressional subpoenas3, while investors implementing ESG data and criteria have been subjected to antagonistic investigations4 from state officials.

At Adasina, we believe these attacks are designed to pose an existential threat to both the targeted investors and the industry as a whole. The attacks do not need to be legally sound to have the intended chilling effect on all DEI, ESG, and impact investing practices. They are already draining operating funds, pulling organizations away from their primary work, and making investors hesitant to continue taking bold action for justice and sustainability.

How Did We Get Here?

We believe investors have the power and prerogative to take an active role in transitioning from an economy based on extraction from people and the planet to one that supports a just and sustainable world. Investing is, after all, taking a position on the future. Most people we have encountered want to invest in a safer, healthier, and more just future than the status quo we inherited.

In recent years, investors have been increasingly effective in using their power in service of social transformation, achieving significant wins. In Adasina’s own work, we have seen extraordinary outcomes arise from mobilizing to address issues of shared concern. Some examples of investors leveraging their power to advance justice and sustainability include:

Many believe the current rash of legal and political attacks is a brutal reaction and backlash against the real progress investors are making to advance racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. If that is true, and backlash is a sign of meaningful social progress5, now is the time for forward-looking investors to intensify their efforts.

How Adasina Is Helping

At Adasina, community is at the heart of everything we do, whether through our investor mobilization campaigns that currently align over one trillion dollars with social justice movements or the community-sourced data we use in our portfolios and publish for anyone to use. Our community of practice includes organizations working to repair systemic injustice and the values-aligned investors who join us in pursuing a more just and sustainable world.

As the assault on our community escalated, we realized that despite the attacks coming from a small handful of organizations with the same goals and funders, there was no equally coordinated legal effort to defend DEI, ESG, and impact investing from the onslaught. The absence of an organized response has left the fundamental practices of justice and sustainability investing vulnerable to coercive suppression.

We listened to our community of values-aligned investors who told us they wanted investor best practices, industry-competent and networked legal professionals, and a unified approach to defending against these attacks. Similarly, we heard from our social justice partners that they wanted assurance that the values-aligned investing community would stand by them rather than bow to pressure from those intent on cementing the status quo or erasing recent gains.

As the bridge between social justice movements and financial markets, we identified a clear and distinctive need being articulated by our partners on both sides of that bridge: a legal initiative willing to take a bold and affirmative approach to safeguarding investors’ rights and upholding their fiduciary duty to serve their clients’ and stakeholders’ interests, not the dictates of those in power.

In cooperation with several close allies — all prominent Black women leaders in the field, as it turned out — Adasina created a proposal for an investors’ legal initiative. Over 50 entities representing the full spectrum of DEI, ESG, and impact investing supported the draft proposal, including asset managers in public and private markets, individual and institutional asset owners, investment advisors and consultants, and service providers.

I am delighted to announce that we recently succeeded in identifying a sponsoring organization to bring to life the investor legal support our community imagined!

While several details remain confidential, effective immediately, legally targeted DEI, ESG, and impact investors may contact investorslegalfund@gmail.com for referrals to aligned law firms and nonprofit legal organizations offering pro bono services. 

We look forward to continuing to support the legal initiative as it grows to meet the full needs of our community.

What Can Investors Do?

#1 – Get Connected

Sign up for the legal initiative email list to stay informed about further developments. If you are interested in contributing to the organization’s operation or funding, contact the email address above. Please also look for further updates from Adasina — if you haven’t already done so, please subscribe to Adasina’s email list. To the extent you feel safe doing so, please also share and discuss this article with your peers, colleagues, and clients.

#2 – Educate Yourself

While the investor legal initiative will ultimately provide a wealth of legal information for justice and sustainability investors, we recognize the need for some immediate resources. Investors who wish to learn more about the origins of these assaults or how to insulate their DEI, ESG, and impact investing efforts from attacks may be interested in the following:

Investor Best Practices

DEI/ESG Considerations As a Fiduciary Responsibility

Where Are We Now?

Unraveling the Backstory

#3 – Align Your Strategies

Please make use of the resources provided above, and reach out to the investor legal initiative if you are targeted, even if you already have or wish to hire your own legal counsel. The legal initiative can help ensure your attorneys are well-networked and stay informed about developments in other relevant legal cases. Adasina will provide additional resources and updates as they develop until the legal initiative is fully staffed.

Whatever course you choose to take, we encourage you to hold fast to your community and client duty. Continue using material racial, gender, economic, and climate justice considerations to inform your organizational initiatives and investment strategy. Recommit or double down on your justice and sustainability initiatives in 2024 — now is the time to intensify our efforts.

We Shall Overcome

This is not the first time reactionary forces have sought to prevent or reverse social progress, and it won’t be the last. But history also demonstrates that those forces can be defeated by collective action.

I firmly believe that together we can and will overcome these baseless assaults and the propaganda supporting them. We will reassert investor freedom to serve our clients’ and communities’ interests using all materially relevant information without obstruction from politically retrogressive forces.

My confidence is based on experience. It has been my privilege to know and collaborate with many of you over the past 20+ years to improve the transparency, equity, and sustainability of the investment industry. Together, we have collectively informed and engaged corporations, financial markets, and governments to take actions that benefit shareholders and employees, as well as people and the planet. I believe the cynical attempts to divide, diminish, and thwart our efforts will fail. I also remain firmly convinced that in this case, as in every other context, solutions should be led by the people who are most impacted. I hope you will confer closely with your peers, clients, and stakeholders and take appropriate action to stand against intimidation. Collectively, we will continue to create large-scale, systemic change for the better.

This message is provided solely for information purposes. It does not represent and should not be interpreted as legal, financial, or tax advice.


Endnotes:

  1. Kenneth P. Vogel, Leonard Leo Pushed the Courts Right. Now He’s Aiming at American Society, New York Times (October 12, 2022).
  2. Nate Raymond, Conservative Activist Behind US Affirmative Action Cases Sues Venture Capital Fund, Reuters (August 2, 2023).
  3. Saul Elbein, Jordan Subpoenas Climate Group For Alleged ‘Collusion’ And Antitrust Violations, The Hill (November 1, 2023).
  4. Dechert LLP, The Developing Litigation Risks from the ESG Backlash in the United States, Dechert LLP (June 21, 2023).
  5. John S. Huntington and Lawrence Glickman, America’s Most Destructive Habit, The Atlantic (November 7, 2021).

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