At a recent investment industry conference, Tim Buckley, CEO of Vanguard, was asked about socially responsible, environmentally sustainable investing. “We’ve run out of time,” he jokingly claimed, uneasy about responding. According to climate activists like myself, Vanguard has “run out of time” to show the kind of leadership needed to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis. Now, Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) is launching the “Never Vanguard” phase of our campaign, so that investors who take climate change seriously can turn the heat up on Vanguard.
Vanguard is the world’s biggest investor in fossil fuels, it has invested $184 billion in fossil fuel infrastructure expansion and it has an abysmal voting record on climate-related shareholder resolutions. Given the intensifying climate crisis, Vanguard’s stagnant, environmentally dangerous business model defies logic and, for some investors, is tarnishing their brand. EQAT and many like-minded partners, both local and across the globe, have been urging Vanguard to use its power and influence as a shareholder to push the companies it invests in to do better on climate, and then to exit its investments in fossil fuel companies if they refuse.
EQAT and our partners have urged Vanguard to do better through a range of nonviolent direct actions, including many at Vanguard’s corporate headquarters in Malvern. We have distributed fliers to Vanguard employees; we have co-hosted speakers, including an Indigenous group from Peru asking Vanguard to stop funding oil company Petroperú; we have held a mock news report from the year 2033 in which climate disasters are tied to Vanguard’s failed decision-making in 2023; and we have even prayed silently outside the CEO’s house. Vanguard has consistently refused to listen to our concerns and has made it clear that they would rather have protesters arrested than engage in a dialogue about investments and business practices that harm our communities, often communities in which folks do not have money to invest.
Vanguard justifies propping up the fossil fuel industry by hiding behind the claim of “fiduciary duty.” With a figurative shrug, Vanguard claims it has a duty to stay invested in fossil fuels to ensure top returns for its investors. EQAT argues that a livable planet must be part of what is “returned” to all of our communities. EQAT is launching the Never Vanguard phase of our campaign this month as a way to underscore our refusal to be complicit in Vanguard’s dangerous business model.
Our first Never Vanguard action will be on June 10 near industrial sites polluting Chester: Vanguard is a top investor in corporations like Covanta and Kimberly Clark that are dumping disease-causing toxins into the air in Chester. On June 14, we will head back to Vanguard headquarters in Malvern, where Never Vanguard pledges will be made. Some folks will pledge to move their money out of Vanguard, some will pledge to never work at Vanguard and others will pledge to help spread the word about Vanguard’s toxic investments. Vanguard must wake up to the moral choice it faces and do better.
Amy Covill is a recently retired psychology professor.