‘Uber Files’ and ‘Back off BlackRock’ campaign expose ‘pink washing’ as the heart of corporate women’s economic empowerment agenda

4 October 2022

Recent coverage of the Uber Leaks and now cancelled BlackRock and UN Women partnership have further evidenced the contradiction of corporate ‘pink washing’ with International Financial Institution (IFI) commitments to rights-based gender equality. Following outcry from civil society organisations (CSOs), UN Women has put on hold a controversial partnership with BlackRock, the world’s largest investment fund manager.

Nearly 600 CSOs signed a letter in August demanding its termination, citing BlackRock’s history as a “morally bankrupt” institution and major investor in fossil fuels and weapons manufacturers. It highlighted the incompatibility of corporate interests with institutions such as the UN’s mission, noting that “corporations, unlike governments, are accountable to their shareholders with a view to increase profit. This, in many cases, is directly in conflict with the transformation needed to protect people and the planet.”

This case reflects increasingly brazen attempts at corporate capture of development and global governance spheres for ‘pink washing’, allowing corporations to position themselves as empowering women, while undertaking actions that harm them in search of profit. The recently released ‘Uber Files’ is a case in point, with Uber claiming it empowers women, while undermining labour rights (see Observer Summer 2021). This has not stopped the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private sector arm, from partnering with Uber and touting the gig economy for “empowering women economically.” IFC has also partnered with Coca Cola, Nestle and Nespresso, Moove and Dingyi Venture Capital, with similar intentions. Kate Bedford of the University of Birmingham stressed that “this matters because the World Bank Group is highly influential in international development,” noting that Uber’s partnership with IFC validates its “gender equality credentials and business model”, thus undermining their own credibility and demonstrating that a much clearer understanding and guidance on the harms of green- and pink washing is needed.