Nike, Coca-Cola, and American Airlines are just a few of the companies Consumers’ Research is targeting over their woke business practices. Consumers’ Research, an educational organization seeking to highlight issues concerning to consumers, now has a new target: American investment firm BlackRock and their ties to the Chinese Communist Party.
“Where [is BlackRock] investing your money? China. Pouring in billions, propping up Chinese communist leaders, putting money into surveillance companies used by the Chinese military. Even left-wing billionaire George Soros knows BlackRock is harming U.S. national security,” says Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, an educational organization seeking to highlight issues concerning to consumers. Will, thank you so much for joining me today.
Will Hild: Thanks for having me.
Blair: Your organization, Consumers’ Research, is in the process of launching a campaign about U.S. investment firm BlackRock and their connections to the Chinese Communist Party. So, what do you want us to know specifically about this relationship?
Hild: Absolutely. Two things, namely that BlackRock is taking American investment dollars and they’re funneling them into companies controlled by the Communist Party in many cases. And as many people know, China’s become our greatest geopolitical adversary.
At the same time that they are funding investments for Chinese companies, sometimes Chinese companies that are being used to oppress the Chinese people, they’re hamstringing U.S. corporations here in the United States, bullying them, trying to get them to divest of, in some cases, their main product—oil and gas.
In other cases, just getting involved and bean counting around race and gender, board diversity quotas, that kind of thing. At the same time that they’re advantaging foreign corporations, namely Chinese corporations that we’re competing with, they’re hamstringing U.S. corporations here at home.
Blair: And why should this matter then? You mentioned that some of the corporations here are being hamstrung. Americans here being hamstrung. But what about this relationship to the Chinese Communist Party should concern Americans?
Hild: Absolutely. Well, let me take a step back just to say Consumers’ Research is the nation’s oldest consumer protection organization. We try to protect and educate consumers in all ways. And there’s actually twofold problems here for U.S. consumers. Let me start with the most important one.
The effect of all these things that BlackRock is doing to U.S. corporations, trying to get them to divest their oil, gas, trying to distract them from their business model and focus on, like I said, bean counting our own race and gender, it’s going to drive up the price and drive down the quality of the goods that these companies are producing.
Let me give you a specific example. BlackRock was just instrumental in getting elected three activist board members to Exxon’s board. Those directors’ stated purpose is to get Exxon to focus on meeting the Paris accord agreement targets, which would effectively get them out of the oil and gas business within the next few years.
Well, this is a time, obviously, when we’re seeing energy prices skyrocket in an unprecedented way. The American consumers are already having to tighten their budget because of inflation. And this is only going to make things worse.
Energy is a cost of production for pretty much every good or service. And so, if the price of oil and gas goes up because of lack of exploration or recovery, we’re going to see prices go up across the board. And so, that’s No. 1. We’d like BlackRock to cut that out because we think it’s really bad for the American consumer.
But No. 2, often American consumers are also American investors. That’s why they call them retail investors. And we thought that they needed to know how their money was being used in ways against their own interests, as I just noted. Their money as investors was being used against their interest as consumers, but also as Americans.
We’re obviously locked in sort of a frenemy situation with China that’s growing in its bellicosity, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down anytime soon. And the Chinese seem bent on making sure that’s the case. So we don’t think it’s wise, at a time like this, that the American dollars, investment dollars, BlackRock would be taking those and betting on China. Sometimes they’re hamstringing U.S. corporations.
Blair: Now, we do have that ad and we’re going to actually play it right now for our listeners.
Ad: BlackRock, the biggest American money manager. Where are they investing your money? China. Pouring in billions, propping up Chinese communist leaders, putting money into surveillance companies used by the Chinese military. Even left-wing billionaire George Soros knows BlackRock is harming U.S. national security. CEO Larry Fink loves to tell Americans how to live, but he negotiated against America, sucking up to China. BlackRock, taking your money, betting on China.
Blair: Having heard the ad, who are you targeting with the campaign? Is it specifically BlackRock? Is it the consumers? Is it both? Sort of what—
Hild: Absolutely. That’s a great question. There’s, again, two intentions here with the ad. One is to send a message to BlackRock, that we’re paying attention, they’re being named and shamed.
BlackRock is a company that most Americans have never heard of, and we didn’t want them to get away with what they were doing because of their obscurity. In other words, because of how little known they were, they were sort of getting away with virtue signaling on Wall Street, here in the U.S., and yet cozying up to one of the most authoritarian regimes. U.N. would say, “Worst human rights abuser in the world.”
The second one is to educate consumers, so that they know what’s going on, how their money’s being used.
There’s a number of different states that have pension dollars that are managed by BlackRock. So in some cases you may have citizens of states whose own pension money is being invested in China, risky investments. And then here, it’s being used against their interest as consumers. They’re being double ripped off by BlackRock. And so, we just thought it was very important that consumers be aware of this because up till now, it’s sort of been an inside secret in Wall Street and the average American needs to know that.
Blair: It’s a dual-pronged approach.
Blair: I’m curious as to how you became and your organization became aware of the dealings between BlackRock and China. What was the process like to get that information?
Hild: Right. Well, let me take a quick step back. We launched the Consumers First Initiative, which is aimed at telling corporations to stop cozying up to woke politicians and focus on their consumers. We launched that in June.
And then the lead-up to that campaign, we spent over a year just really digging in to the ecosystem, what was happening, why did we see so many weird things going on in corporate America, what were the incentives. And we kept coming back to this one company that seemed to be pushing this and the one CEO, Larry Fink, who was mentioned in the ad, of course.
And we looked at what they were doing and lo and behold, just like some of the American corporations here that are going woke in order to cozy up to woke politicians, and namely distract from the bad things they’re doing—the failures, their misdeeds, their mistreatments of their customers, in cases like American and Coca-Cola and Nike—sure enough, BlackRock is doing the same thing.
Here in America, they’re virtue signaling. They’re talking about all the things they’re going to make American corporations do, they say are great things. But you look at their dealings in China, they’re investing in companies like iFLYTEK and Hikvision. These are two surveillance companies that have actually been blacklisted by the American government.
Is it legal for U.S. persons to trade with these companies? Because they are surveillance companies being used to oppress the Chinese people on behalf of the Communist Party. And yet BlackRock actually increased their investment in these companies after they were blacklisted.
So you have at the same time, like I said, they’re virtue signaling here. They’re out in China, cozying up to one of the most authoritarian regimes in world history.
Blair: The campaign has been out for a little bit now. Have you received any responses to it? Are people resonating with it? How is it going?
Hild: Well, we’ve just been floored by the overwhelming feedback. There seems to be a real reservoir of anger at this type of action. We’ve received thousands and thousands of emails and support from across the country and really from across the political divide.
Some people would like to say, “This is a political action.” We actually think it’s the opposite. We’ve gotten feedback from people left, right, middle, up, down. No matter who you are in America, no American consumer likes to be preached at by the company that supposedly worked for them, producing the goods and services them. They don’t want to be told what to think or how to think or how to talk about politics. And so, we’ve just really been floored.
Now, some of the companies have come back. On Friday, BlackRock responded. They attacked us. I will note, they didn’t deny a single fact in the ad. They can’t, none of it, all of it’s been cited by very reputable mainstream media stories. So they completely ignore that and just go ad hominem against us. And I think that, to me, is the most telling thing, that they couldn’t quibble about a single fact that we allege.
Blair: It was more that they were just, “Hey, why did you expose this information?”
Hild: Right. Well, basically, they said I don’t care about the issues that they care about. And they’re right, I don’t care about growing their profits and aggrandizing their power at the cost of the American consumer.
Blair: So given that this is getting results, it seems like you’ve gotten people engaged, you’ve gotten people responding to this ad campaign relatively positively. BlackRock themselves came out and gave a response to it. What would be the successful resolution to this campaign? What would you like to see?
Hild: Well, there’s a lot of different options there, depending on who you’re talking about. Obviously, in a perfect world, I’d like to see BlackRock cut it out. I’d like to see them focus on providing good investment management advice and services to their clientele that doesn’t involve cozying up to an authoritarian human rights-violating regime, and doesn’t put this country at a disadvantage long term against that regime, as we compete, and doesn’t drive up costs for consumers, some of the very consumers whose money they’re investing.
So that would be namely No. 1, to get, obviously, them to just stop being villainous.
But short of that, I would like the American people to really understand what’s going on. I think there’s a lot of growing frustration. You see some of the results of BlackRock’s activities and don’t know … where is this coming from? Why is there less oil and gas expiration driving up energy costs? Well, we hope to explain that. And that’s one of these things that’s going on that I would hope, coming out of this ad campaign, people would understand.
Blair: Now, beyond the BlackRock campaign, Consumers’ Research has also run campaigns on other companies that have been doing woke capital, as you refer to it—Coke, Nike, American Airlines. What results came from those campaigns? Are we seeing similar things coming from this one as well?
Hild: Well, it’s interesting. Again, been floored by the amount of feedback we’ve gotten, positive feedback. I don’t know everything that the companies have done since, but I’m pretty sure most of them have more or less stayed out of issues of politics that are not germane to their business and that they have no expertise in, which was always our goal.
Say, “Listen, we understand there are issues that you may talk to politicians about related to sugar taxes or in the case of Coca-Cola or shoe rubber or whatever, but you’re wading into issues that you don’t know anything about. And it’s clear that you’re only doing this to cozy up to woke politicians for favors and for virtue signaling to cover.” And we’ve seen that decrease to a large extent with a lot of these companies. So we’re happy to see that.
At the same time, sadly, some of what we haven’t seen is them fixing their problems. So you look at an airline like American, who was already struggling and was going woke to cover from that, basically, since we’ve launched our campaign, it’s been an unending string of bad news for that company, mainly focused on their incompetence and their inability to run an airline.
Just over the weekend, they had to cancel thousands of flights. And the pilots union representative that spoke on the topics said, basically, they are failing at the most basic aspects of running an airline, which is attach staff and pilots to these flights and get them in the air.
So it makes you question, is the COO, [David] Seymour, and the CEO, Doug Parker, are they in a room somewhere talking about woke politics when they should be running the airline or what?
But we hope that they will, either them or their board—or ultimately, the shareholders—will take more seriously the management of that company and get them focused away from politics and back to the task at hand, which is running an airline.
Blair: Now, you mentioned that certain businesses maybe aren’t responding in the ways that we’d like, but there are certain responses that are coming out at all. Are you saying that maybe it’s more the consumers that are responding to these campaigns then?
Hild: Yeah, we’ve had overwhelming response from consumers, thanking us for speaking up for them. That’s one of our missions at Consumers’ Research, is to speak up for the consumer in the marketplace and to educate them about issues that are important to their interests.
But I don’t want to downplay it. I think when the campaign launched back in the summer, it seemed like every day some corporation or group of corporations was coming out and speaking on some issue that wasn’t germane to their business. And that does seem to have decreased, I think, fairly significantly.
I’m not in those rooms. Obviously, they’re not going to invite me in anytime soon. But it does seem … tempo and volume of politic speech on these issues coming out of corporate America has decreased since we launched.
Blair: I feel like we scratched the surface on some of the issues that are resulting from companies that are going woke like American Airlines. Obviously, you said there’s quite a bit of problems going on right now, but sort of at a larger level, what are the real dangers in companies like Nike, American Airlines, BlackRock engaging in woke capitalism?
Hild: Absolutely. Well, I mean, it’s the same danger that exists anytime you have bad actors who try to use grandstanding and virtue signaling to cover from what should be the focus, which is fixing their problems.
I think, broadly speaking, we have a free market system here in the United States, and that’s based on the idea of calling balls and strikes. In other words, instead of a planned economy, state economy, like our frenemy China, you don’t really have much of a say if you don’t like what a company’s doing, not just in the services they’re providing, but what they’re doing to your community or doing to your society, or that kind of thing. You have to go to some political official and hope that he’ll hear you out, and then he’ll issue some dictate.
Here in America, the idea is that we have a right as Americans to not just not buy the goods, I think too much of a focus gets made on that, where it was always, “It’s just all about money.” It’s not, you have a right in a democracy to discuss whether you think something’s a moral decision or whether a company should be shamed for doing something.
And I think that’s an important aspect that has been not lost, but certainly not been fully represented in the American marketplace’s idea that consumers can come together and say, “You know what? We really just can’t stand listening to you bloviate from your ivory tower.”
In the case of Doug Parker, they got a guy whose airline required a multibillion-dollar taxpayer-funded bailout. The same year, he gets a 10 million-plus paycheck in the form of stock options, courtesy of the American taxpayer. And then he’s bloviating on politics and weighing in on issues he doesn’t know anything about.
And I think that is something that at a higher level, Americans are kind of waking up and saying, “You know what? We’re sick of this. And we are going to tell you that we don’t like the cut of your jib. You should be ashamed of what you’re doing. It’s not seemly.”
Blair: Now, I want to highlight something you just said, is that they’re bloviating about politics and morality. Does politics have any place in business at all? I’m curious if the problem here is that woke capitalism is the issue, or it’s just that politics and business should not mix?
Hild: That’s a good question. The phenomenon that we saw was that woke politics was being used as a shiny object to shake, while you were using forced labor in China, or subsisting only on government payouts, while eight-figure paychecks go to your CEO, Doug Parker. And so, to us, that was the focus.
And a lot of times we get interviewed, and say, “Well, what … ” They kind of want me to write a whole list of rules for corporate America. And it’s sort of like, I just want them to cut out this fraud. Just stop doing this thing where you got really shady stuff, you got skeletons in your closet. You may actively have your business model failing in the case of American Airlines, and yet, you won’t just deal with the problems.
So I would say, generally, as a rule, consumers should have this expectation. Companies should be focused on politics as it pertains to their business model. Is it something that they need to talk to a congressman [about] because, like I said, there’s a sugar tax issue or a tariff or something like that? That is in the mission of serving the consumer, because they’re trying to figure out, “How do I produce the highest quality good for the lowest price for the most amount of people?” Every business is trying to basically do that.
What is very suspicious, and in this case I think very villainous, is when they get into politics, not anything to do with serving the consumer, only to serve themselves at the expense of the consumer.
Blair: So if American Airlines is talking about Black Lives Matter, that really has nothing to do with the airline business, it’s more—
Hild: Right. Absolutely. Let me put it this way, it is extremely suspicious if they are. … Doug Parker loves to brag about the fact that he does not get a salary, he gets a stock option. His bonus is based on stock compensation. So at least in theory, his compensation is performance-based. Doesn’t seem to work out that way, but whatever.
Let’s take another example of something that’s performance-based. Most car dealers, when you go in to buy a car, you say, “Hey, I’m here to buy a car.” They don’t go, “Well, let me tell you about Black Lives Matter for the next 15 minutes.” Because their paycheck is reliant on the fact of them getting you into the vehicle on that dealership.
Every company in America is effectively a car dealer because they don’t have somebody like, I guess, Doug does. He’s got the U.S. taxpayer. But absent government bailout, most companies are that car dealer. They have to sell you a good or service that you want in order to stay in business.
And so, it should be really suspicious when you walk up to the car dealership, and I mean that metaphoric, like if you walk into any business in America and they suddenly just want to talk to you about something completely unrelated. It makes you question, it’s like, “Well, do you really have faith in your cars? Are they breaking down back there and you’re trying to hide something?”
And so, I think that’s the issue, is it seems to be a problem that is recent. And every time you look into it, these companies have a real issue that they really don’t want to talk about. And in some cases, it’s like strangely related to the thing that they’re bloviating about.
Like BlackRock’s got all these environmental rules they’re trying to pose from the top-down on American corporations. But then in China, it’s just like freewheeling, they’re invested in … PetroChina and all these crazy polluting companies. It seems they’re covering for that specific thing so they have something they can hold up and be like, “Oh, look how good we are.”
Blair: Interesting. I want to go back to Consumers’ Research as an organization. As we mentioned at the top, you guys highlight issues that affect consumers and then offer them sort of like guidance on how to consume better. How do you guys do that? What’s the work that you guys do to educate the consumer?
Hild: That’s a great question. Well, historically, the organization was founded in 1929. We’re the oldest consumer protection organization. I wasn’t there, obviously, which is probably for the best, because then I wouldn’t be here. And it started out as pretty much your first product testing organization.
We had a lab of about 500 people in Washington, New Jersey put out the Consumers Bulletin, which is now a website, by the way, consumersbulletin.org. And it existed because there really was no product testing in America.
The founder, Frederick Schlink, had written a book called “100,000,000 Guinea Pigs,” which was a reference to the population of the United States at that time. It’s basically saying companies were just putting out products and, “We’ll see what happens.” And that continued for a good portion of the life of the organization.
However, luckily, the market actually provided new products and services like Yelp and Google Reviews. And you don’t really need that as much anymore. Even websites like Lifehacker and Wirecutter are having trouble because there’s just so much aggregated, crowdsourced reviews of things.
And so, we moved into a space of trying to go from kind of a shotgun blast approach to more of a rifle shot, where we would look for real issues that consumers kind of were missing, that aren’t going to show up in a Google Review for American Airlines, or certainly not for BlackRock, and try to educate them on an issue that maybe isn’t right at the surface level, but is affecting their experiences as consumers. And so, we’ve kind of shifted focus over time as sort of the product testing has been taken over by the sort of crowdsourcing internet age.
Blair: Your campaigns target quite a few different businesses. Coke, obviously, the drink company and food; Nike, sports apparel; American Airlines, a plane; and then BlackRock. We got all that stuff. How do you guys determine which issues you direct your consumers to sort of look at?
Hild: That’s great question. Well, it really just depends on what we see as the sort of greatest factor going into this. So like for American Airlines and Coca-Cola and Nike, they were all companies that had massive hypocrisy at the same time that they were bloviating on subject after subject. And so, it seemed like something where people needed to understand—we’re sort of introducing the consumer to this trick that these [companies] were pulling.
It’s sort of like you’re walking down the street in New York or Chicago, whatever, and you see someone doing like a Three-card Monte scam on somebody like that. There’s a crowd of people gathering. They’re moving the cards around or whatever. And you walk up and you just explain, “Actually, the card’s in his—he’s moved it … none of the three is the card that you’re looking for. You’re never going to win.” Well, you’ve effectively beat him. You don’t have to arrest the guy at that point, because you don’t have the power to, we’ll say. But you’ve destroyed his scam because you’ve explained the trick.
So, initially, for the Consumers First Initiative, we just wanted to explain the trick to consumers, that what’s going on here is when you see them take this weird stance on something that’s not related to their business model—and I will note, I know I keep hammering on American Airlines, because it’s such a great example of this. It was so oddly ironic that they would take a position at the time they were really getting involved in some election integrity legislation that was going through Texas.
And one of the big things they hit upon was that you were going to need an ID to vote. What’s really weird about that is you need an ID to use their product. So not only are they out here getting involved in something that’s not germane to them and they have no expertise in it, they’re sort of taking a position that’s in direct contradiction to their own business model. And so, we wanted to explain to consumers that were mystified by this, “Well, here’s what’s really going on.”
And then with BlackRock, we wanted to show, to stretch the Three-card Monte metaphor way farther than I should, that the Three-card Monte operator has a boss and you may not know who he is, but he’s the guy putting all these guys out there. And he’s the one pushing them to do this.
And BlackRock plays a significant role in pushing American corporations away from their main focus, which should be producing value to consumers in order to return value to their shareholders. And they’ve instead hijacked the management class and provided all these perverse incentives for them to serve their own interests, either to be punished or rewarded for sort of engaging in woke politics and cozying up to woke politicians. So we’re trying to explain the street-level trick, and then explain the sort of boss guy and where he’s at and what he’s doing.
Blair: Let’s say you’re given the opportunity to maybe sit down with the CEO of American Airlines or BlackRock. And you are going to explain to them what Consumers’ Research is trying to do? What do you say to them?
Hild: What I would say we’re trying to get them to do is just to cut it out and just focus on flying a good airline. American Airlines used to be my airline. I always flew. And I just watched the quality go down and down and down.
And then you look into a little bit of what Doug Parker’s been doing during the management cycle—I think in 2016, there’s a good Forbes letter on this. It talked about in 2016, I think the company started off with like $5.5 billion in cash, just sitting in the bank.
By the time the pandemic had rolled around, they had spent $5 billion of the cash and then borrowed more, I don’t remember the exact amount, to do stock buybacks—which, remember I noted that Doug Parker’s compensation is exclusively based on stock compensation, which he claims keeps him honest about his performance. Because it’s all, “I don’t get just paid for sitting in the seat. I have to produce value.”
Well, what he’s done over his tenure is effectively just use stock buybacks to goose the price. And then when the pandemic rolled around, there was no money in the bank. It’s sort of like spending all your rainy day fund. And he had to run to the U.S. government for a bailout.
I bring this up because what I’d say is, “You spend all that money putting stock options in your pocket. You either could have returned more value to shareholders or my preference is you could have invested in newer planes, more leg room, given your workers a wage so that they’re happier on the job and more training so that they can handle issues better.”
I mean, $5 billion could have gone into improving that airline. Instead, it’s sort of like they stripped it for parts and then sold it so that they could goose his compensation. And then they pretended as if COVID was the entirety of why they needed a bailout. And that just isn’t true. They wouldn’t have needed one had they been saving that money instead of spending it.
I mean, obviously, it’s a long way of saying a very simple message, “Just get back to serving your consumers and stop cozying up to woke politicians because we’re done playing that game. We’re going to name and shame you when you do that.”
Blair: So as we wrap-up here, if our listeners would like to learn more about your campaign against BlackRock or American Airlines or Nike or Coke, where should they go?
Hild: Absolutely. Well, I’m going to shill exclusively here for our website on BlackRock. People can visit blackrockloveschina.com and find out all the dirty details that CEO, Larry Fink, doesn’t want you to know about. And we hope you’ll come watch the ad there.
Blair: Very good. That was Will Hild, executive director of Consumers’ Research, an educational organization seeking to highlight issues concerning to consumers. Will, very much appreciate you joining us.
Hild: Thank you so much for having me.
A Note for our Readers: Stay alert for next week’s info regarding Morgan Stanley.