A conservative, nonprofit watchdog is keeping up the pressure on Morningstar, despite a reduction in the number of Israel-linked companies on a blacklist maintained by the investment firm and its socially conscious investment ratings arm, Sustainalytics.
Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, told JNS that the nonprofit launched a new media campaign on Tuesday morning. It planned to send a mobile billboard to Morningstar’s Chicago headquarters and to run digital ads on the website of Crain’s Chicago for a week.
It is also starting what Hild referred to as “targeted digital campaign aimed at consumers and Morningstar employees.”
Morningstar reduced the number of businesses it tags with “controversy ratings” from 26 to 7, following pressure from a coalition of U.S. Jewish and pro-Israel organizations. The “controversy” tag, which can dissuade would-be investors, was applied to companies that operate beyond the 1949 armistice line, often referred to as the “Green Line.” Morningstar is also being investigated in at least 20 states for potential boycott, divestment and sanctions activity against the Jewish state.
Critics have called the “controversy” ratings a boycott due to the company’s use of anti-Israel sources for its ratings and the language it used originally, suggesting that businesses serving Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria should be flagged automatically. Morningstar has said consistently that it does not engage in BDS.
The investment firm agreed to implement changes in how it handles businesses inside what it calls the Israeli-Palestinian conflict area.
Hild told JNS that the reduction isn’t good enough.
Consumers’ Research is a critic broadly of the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investment movement, in which Sustainalyics specializes. ESG has come under scrutiny for injecting progressive politics in place of sound investing.
“As long as Morningstar is allowing their own political bias into what is supposed to be a purely financial analysis, reducing that bias from some to less doesn’t fix the problem,” Hild said of the firm’s anti-Israel decisions.
“Their ratings have impacts long down the chain on consumers,” he added. “They need to go all the way and focus solely on the financial issues that they were hired to focus on and not inserting their own anti-Israel bias into their analysis.”
When Consumers’ Research ran a similar campaign in April, Morningstar had no apparent reaction, according to Hild.
The question: Not how many, but why?
Rich Goldberg, senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is a strong critic of Morningstar. He told JNS that the pressure should be kept on Morningstar, despite the reduction in flagged companies in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
“The bottom-line question for governors or state treasurers assessing whether Morningstar is violating their state’s anti-BDS law is this: Is Morningstar unfairly blacklisting Israel-based companies based on BDS criteria?” he posed. “The answer today is yes, seven times over.”
“It always comes back to why is a company blacklisted, not how many are blacklisted,” he said. “If there is any company—even one—being blacklisted simply for providing services in Jerusalem, Judea or Samaria, that’s BDS.”