newsBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

Florida to investigate Morningstar for potential BDS practices

A senior state board official told JNS meetings were held this week to understand the ramifications of Florida’s amended anti-BDS law.

Smartphone with webpage of American financial-services company Morningstar Inc. on screen in front of the logo, Feb. 6, 2022. Credit: T. Schneider/Shutterstock.
Smartphone with webpage of American financial-services company Morningstar Inc. on screen in front of the logo, Feb. 6, 2022. Credit: T. Schneider/Shutterstock.

The Florida agency responsible for investing state and local government assets confirmed to JNS that it is opening an investigation into potential boycott Israel (BDS) practices by the investment firm Morningstar and its subsidiary Sustainalytics.

Kent Perez, deputy executive director of the State Board of Administration of Florida, told JNS that board consultants and legal personnel held a lengthy June 19 meeting to review and analyze the state’s new anti-BDS provisions. Those went into effect on May 24 when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an amended anti-BDS bill into law.

The new law bars Florida from conducting business with any company “taking adverse action, including changes to published commercial financial ratings, risk ratings and controversy ratings based on non-pecuniary factors, to inflict economic harm on Israel or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli controlled territories.” (Pecuniary means financial.)

Legislators crafted the law to target the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) industry, which critics say broadly injects left-wing political concerns into investing. An array of U.S. Jewish and pro-Israel groups have accused Morningstar and Sustainalytics of using investment ratings systems that inherently discriminate against and single out Israel. The parent firm is under investigation in some 20 states for its practices.

“We’ve asked the State Board of Administration to engage Morningstar to assess why the company appears to be blacklisting companies associated with Israel,” Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer, told JNS on June 7.

“The company already has a troubling history. If they’re discriminating against Israel, Florida law is clear, and we have no choice but to explore divestment actions against the firm,” Patronis said.

Perez doesn’t think there is a clear case of BDS violations by Morningstar “on the face of the new verbiage” in the amended law, he told JNS. But that question is at the center of the investigation.

The process will likely begin with a letter from the state to Morningstar leadership, inviting the latter to engage with the State Board of Administration. Florida did the same with the British company Unilever, when the latter’s subsidiary, Ben & Jerry’s, announced that it was ceasing operations in Israeli-controlled territory beyond the 1949 armistice lines due to political considerations.

The Sunshine State announced in October 2021 that it would stop buying shares in the global conglomerate, in line with its anti-BDS law at the time, after Unilever failed to take action. Florida had invested $139 million in Unilever at that point.

Morningstar has consistently denied that it engages in BDS practices and has sought to change some of its ratings policies and procedures in the wake of pressure from an American Jewish and pro-Israel coalition of organizations and various state authorities.

A final decision on whether to divest from Morningstar will come from the SBA’s three-member board of trustees, composed of DeSantis, Patronis and Ashley Moody, Florida’s attorney general.

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