November 11, 2020

Warren to Business Roundtable: Show That Your Climate Commitments Are Not Empty Promises

"The seriousness of the climate crisis deserves more than empty rhetoric without any actual climate action." "The BRT must take steps to align its public statements with its political activity and to publicly document the steps they are taking to reduce their emissions and support emissions-reducing public policy."

Text of Letter

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, sent a letter to Doug McMillon and Mark Sutton, the Business Roundtable (BRT) chair and BRT Energy & Environment Committee, respectively, regarding the September 2020 release of their new principles and policies to address climate change. McMillon is the President and CEO of Walmart, and Sutton is the Chairman and CEO of International Paper.  In the letter, Senator Warren expresses concerns that BRT's previous commitments, including its 2019 Statement on the Purposes of a Corporation, were nothing "but an empty publicity stunt," and asks a series of questions to understand whether and how BRT will issue new requirements for its member companies to take concrete action to meet climate commitments. 

Last month, the BRT issued a new set of principles calling on businesses and the government to address climate change and endorsed measures to disclose climate risks, place a price on carbon, and adopt a federal climate strategy. In their release, BRT members called "on businesses and governments around the world to work together to limit global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement," noting that "domestic and international efforts are falling far short of what will be required to avoid the worst effects of climate change. However, the actual text of the report contained weak and meaningless commitments - suggesting “voluntary” climate disclosures and failing to endorse any specific climate pricing proposal.

"If the BRT is serious this time about its commitments to address the climate crisis, it must provide detailed information to the public about its concrete actions to require corporations to meet these commitments, detail specific policies that BRT will support or oppose, and publicly report the specific commitments, metrics, and progress of its member companies as they strive to meet these commitments. Failure to do so would indicate that the new statement is yet another empty press release by the BRT, designed to boost its public image without taking any action that would merit it”, wrote Senator Warren.

In her letter, Senator Warren raised concerns about the BRT’s poor record on climate policy, including its opposition to environmental safeguards, lobbying in support of fossil fuel infrastructure and the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks, and ties to other trade associations that continue to lobby against climate action.

To demonstrate follow through on their commitments, Senator Warren urged BRT to “provide detailed information about the climate-related actions and metrics you will require BRT members to take and meet, the specific policies you will support and oppose, and the steps that your organization will take to publicly report companies’ progress.”

In September, Senator Warren published an op-ed criticizing the Business Roundtable's splashy  2019 Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, which indicated that corporations should serve all stakeholders, including workers, consumers, and the communities in which they operate, as nothing but an empty publicity stunt. That same month, the Senator sent a letter to the Business Roundtable criticizing the organization and its member CEOs for their failure to honor commitments in the 2019 Statement. In October 2019, Senator Warren reintroduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would help eliminate skewed incentives that have led to record corporate profits and rising worker productivity but stagnant wages.