French activists stormed the Paris offices of financial giant BlackRock on Thursday amid ongoing protests against the nation’s recent pension reforms.
Citizens have been protesting for nearly two weeks after French President Emmanuel Macron overrode a provision of the nation’s constitution to advance a bill through Parliament that raised the retirement age from 62 to 64. Labor unions and other entities have organized nationwide strikes and protests in response to the move, which came amid concerns about the state retirement fund’s looming insolvency.
Demonstrators briefly entered the historic Le Centorial building in central Paris, where BlackRock has a third-floor office, and lit firecrackers as they chanted slogans. BlackRock is one of the world’s largest retirement and pension management companies.
“The government wants to throw away pensions, it wants to force people to fund their own retirement with private pension funds, but what we know is that only the rich will be able to benefit from such a setup,” Françoise Onic, a teacher, said in an interview with Reuters.
The outlet added that the protesters remained in the building for roughly half an hour, leaving smoke from the firecrackers hanging in the air inside the atrium.
Dozens of people, some of whom were representatives of labor unions, entered the ground floor of the building.
“The meaning of this action is quite simple,” Jerome Schmitt, a union spokesman, said in an interview with CNN affiliate BFM-TV. “We went to the headquarters of BlackRock to tell them: the money of workers, for our pensions, they are taking it.”
BlackRock has faced criticism in the United States over the firm’s support of the environmental, social, and corporate governance movement, also known as ESG, which is more widely accepted in Western European nations such as France. Skeptics of the movement contend that the investment philosophy intermixes political and social causes, such as decreasing carbon emissions or diversifying company leadership with respect to race or sex, in a manner that compromises or distracts from profitability.
The aggressive protests over the past several days have led to police deploying tear gas and otherwise seeking to mitigate more violent demonstrations. The town hall of Bordeaux was set ablaze at the outset of the protests last month, according to a report from BBC News.
The pension reforms increased the retirement age for workers in more labor-intensive sectors from 57 to 59 years old. Sanitation workers therefore went on strike, causing several tons of trash to accumulate in the streets of Paris, according to a report from The Associated Press. The French Constitutional Council will issue a ruling on the validity of the reforms next week.
Several developed nations face overburdened pension systems as birth rates fall and more individuals enter retirement age. The United Nations recently called upon governments to increase retirement ages while investing in healthcare and education that permit older people to be more self-reliant and economically productive.
“Based on current global trends, future cohorts of working-age and older persons are likely to be healthier and better educated, and therefore more productive, compared to earlier cohorts,” a report from the organization said. “Eliminating age-related discrimination and barriers to formal employment are other critical measures for older persons to make continued contributions.”