Officials from TIAA-CREF, the huge retirement fund, are meeting with community activists on December 4th to discuss — among other things — the fund’s continuing investment in socially irresponsible companies like Wal-Mart. A network of groups known as the “Make TIAA-CREF Ethical Coalition,” which includes Sprawl-Busters, sent the following email to its supporters this week: “It’s morning in America — do you know where your pension fund assets were last night? Would it upset you to know that TIAA-CREF (TC) — the nation’s largest retirement fund — is a major investor in companies like Wal-Mart, Nike, Costco, Coca-Cola, and Philip Morris/Altria? Millions of TIAA-CREF participants are contributing their money to support abusive human and labor rights practices, destruction of the environment, and harming of human health. The fact is, some of our country’s worst corporate violators are right at home in the portfolio of TC-which says it provides financial services “for the greater good.” In 2007, the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) passed a resolution critical of CREF’s continued investment in several of these corporations. Soon after, the 1.3 million member strong American Federation of Teachers passed a similar resolution. As educators and those working along-side them, we have spent our careers trying to help students learn the truth about the world around them. The truth is that TIAA-CREF continues to invest our funds in these corporate bad actors. We don’t want our investment- 1) Exploiting Third World workers at Nike and Wal-Mart vendor sweatshops 2) Aggressively union-busting American workers at Wal-Mart 3) Destroying historic Mexican culture to build Costcos — and abusing the human rights of those who protest 3) Polluting drinking waters in India; allowing the intimidation or even killing of union workers under the not-so-watchful eye of Coca-Cola bosses in Colombia 4) Supporting the killing practices of Philip Morris/Altria, including its marketing to youth. It’s time for faculty, staff, and students on campuses across America to tell TIAA-CREF it must use its considerable shareholder power to influence these corporations for the better — or stop investing in them. Our work is starting to pay off, but we have a long way to go. TC has now told us that they have been talking with both Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, they have been talking with Coke since 2006, with no substantive changes. Two years is enough time to give Coke. It’s time for TC to do more than just ‘talk’ with Coke and Wal-Mart. And, indeed, TC lists such tactics as collective action, regulatory relief, and litigation, among others, in its Policy Statement on Corporate Governance. Why list them if they are not used? After further lobbying, an August ’08 press release from TC states: ‘Engagement is a multi-step process. TIAA-CREF believes that we should explore the ways in which to influence the companies’ behavior and thereby help bring about positive social change.’ Yet in talking with them since then, they have explicitly said they will not go beyond talking and possible/occasional shareholder resolution work in dealing with companies it engages. Let us hold them to what they said earlier, and what is the right thing to do.”
The Coalition is targeting students, campus groups, and college investors in TIAA-CREF to turn up the heat on the pension fund to truly invest for the ‘greater good.’ Help educate the faculty, staff, and students on your campus and nationwide. Email this message to others at your school and to your friends. Readers should email CREF’s CEO, Roger Ferguson, at [email protected], with a copy to his Trustees at: [email protected] Send the following message: “Dear Mr. Ferguson and CREF Trustees, I am writing to urge TIAA-CREF to put Wal-Mart on a watch list, to advise the retailer that if they don’t clean up their human rights, environmental, and health practices, that CREF will find other companies to invest in. I want to see TIAA-CREF use tougher tactics with Wal-Mart to change how they treat their workers and the communities they force themselves upon. I am urging my school not to invest in CREF as long as you keep investing in an unrepentant Wal-Mart. For too many years you have kept a large investment in Wal-Mart as part of your ‘socially irresponsible’ portfolio. You can’t put Wal-Mart in your ‘socially responsible’ investments, so you leave them in the irresponsible class. No educator or student should want to see irresponsible corporate behavior rewarded with money. Your ‘engagement’ policy is not transparent. Your investors have no idea what you say to Wal-Mart, or what Wal-Mart says back. The fact remains, CREF has one of the largest pension fund investments in Wal-Mart — which has already been dropped by many socially responsible funds. Now its time for CREF investors to send this message to you: Our money talks. If you don’t start taking some action to reform Wal-Mart, I am going to urge investors to pull their funds from CREF. By investing in Wal-Mart, CREF becomes complicit in Wal-Mart’s human rights violations. When you meet December 4th with the TIAA-CREF Ethical Coalition, I hope you will offer more than just talk.” For more background on the Coalition, go to http://www.maketiaa-crefethical.org/. The members of the coalition include: Sprawl-Busters, Press for Change,Campaign to Stop Killer Coke/Corporate Campaign, Inc.,Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Social Choice for Social Change, Citizens Coalition (Frente Civico), Educating for Justice, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops, Canadian Committee To Combat Crimes Against Humanity (CCCCH), Corporate Accountability International (formerly Infact), World Bank Bonds Boycott.