By Maitane Sardon

BlackRock Inc. said Tuesday that it has launched a fossil fuel-free equity index fund to help the British University of Oxford achieve its goal of divesting its endowment from fossil-fuel companies.

The asset manager said it has worked with the Oxford University Endowment Management, which manages 4.1 billion pounds ($5.4 billion) in assets for investors in the Oxford Endowment Fund, to design an investment product that fits with the resolution to divest from fossil fuels while keeping the same levels of liquidity and bonds.

The fund, the iShares Developed World Fossil Fuel Screened Equity Index Fund, tracks the companies in the MSCI World Select Fossil Fuel Screened Index, a benchmark BlackRock said has been custom-made by index and data provider MSCI Inc.

BlackRock said the fund doesn't invest in companies directly involved in fossil-fuel extraction, production and exploration as well as those owning fossil-fuel reserves. It also excludes companies or sectors associated with controversial nuclear and civilian weapons, tobacco, thermal coal and tar sands.

Certain companies that aren't compliant with the United Nations Global Compact principles will also be excluded from the fund, it said. The UN Global Compact is a voluntary framework for companies to align their activities with ten principles in the areas of human rights and the environment.

The launch comes as the movement to exclude the high-polluting sector from university endowments continues to gain ground in the U.K and globally. Last month, the University of Cambridge outlined plans to exit fossil fuels over the next ten years as part of its goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030. Both Oxford and Cambridge are part of a group of more than half of the country's 154 public universities that have committed to divest from the industry, according to People & Planet.

Pressure is also mounting at U.S. universities to ditch oil and gas. In May, Cornell University said it won't add new fossil-fuel investments to its $6.9 billion endowment portfolio. George Washington University pledged in late June to sell its shares in fossil-fuel companies over the next five years.

Write to Maitane Sardon at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

11-10-20 0835ET