TIAA-CREF, which describes itself as a “national financial services organization and the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields,” manages more than $380 billion in combined assets. The company’s marketing slogan is “investing for the greater good.” One of those “greater goods” is Wal-Mart. TC owns nearly $1 billion in Wal-Mart stock. The College Retirement Equities Fund (CREF), an investment company within the TIAA-CREF financial services organization, held its annual meeting this week in Manhattan. Although the company’s official press release on the meeting never mentioned it, much of the Trustee’s meeting was spent listening to statements from activists urging CREF to pressure some of the companies in its portfolio — including Wal-Mart — to become better corporate citizens. Recently, CREF dumped about $52 million in Coke stock from its “social choice account” because of concerns about the drink manufacturer’s labor and human rights controversies and marketing of high calorie products to children. CREF still owns plenty of Coke stocks in its other funds. A representative of Sprawl-Busters was at the CREF annual meeting, as a member of the “Make TIAA-CREF Ethical Coalition..” Here are excerpts from the statement of Regina Discenza, activist from Lacey, New Jersey: “I am here today to urge you to learn from the tiny Norwegian sardine. Let me explain. CREF is committed to investing for the “greater good.” In one of your ads, you say, “…our approach to investing goes beyond sound portfolio management. We are mindful of our social responsibilities…” I am asking you today to “go beyond portfolio management” and follow the lead of the Norwegian Petroleum Fund, which roughly one month ago announced to the world that it was “excluding” Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart de Mexico, from its portfolio. The Norwegian Fund, after months of careful study, concluded that “parts of Wal-Mart’s business operations are run in an unethically unacceptable manner… Tens of thousands of factories’ involve working conditions far short of standards Wal-Mart itself requires of its suppliers… its “production system fosters working conditions bordering on forced labor.” The Fund’s Council of Ethics found that “even though all companies aim at maximizing their profits, it is ethically unacceptable to do so by committing, or tacitly accepting, serious and systematic violations of ethical norms. Wal-Mart’s violations have been undertaken with a view to facilitate or serving the company’s interests… The total sum of violations of standards, both in the company’s own business operations, and in the supply chain, appears to be a systematic and planned practice on the part of the company to operate on, or below, the threshold of what are accepted standards for the work environment. Many of the violations are serious, most appear to be systematic, and altogether they form a picture of a company whose overall activity displays a lack of willingness to countervail violations of standards in its business operations. Although it is legitimate to take steps to hold down prices on its merchandise and increase the company’s profits, it is not legitimate to do so by violating applicable minimum standards.”TIAA-CREF can argue that ‘we are just a small fish in Wal-Mart’s sea — nothing we can do or say would make a difference.” But I want you to remember that Norwegian sardine. A bunch of little fish make a school, a school is full of educators, and educators invest their money in TIAA-CREF. So CREF is really like that school of sardines. Like the Norwegian Petroleum Fund, you have the chance to hold Wal-Mart up to a “greater good”, to put them on notice that you have placed their stock on a “watch”, and that you expect them to take corrective actions to address these issues. If you do nothing, you are supplying money to company that violates international human rights, employee rights, and community rights. You have a social responsibility, and your inaction against Wal-Mart is a form of financial complicity. Follow the Norwegian sardines. It’s time to tell Wal-Mart — if you don’t improve your corporate responsibility to your workers, your suppliers, and your communities, CREF will cut bait.”
The Make TC Ethical Coalition list of issues with Wal-Mart includes the following: 1. Adopt the following development principles:
??Have Wal-Mart Realty assign a community representative to meet with neighbors of every proposed store, to solicit their concerns and ideas for development, and bring them to a WMR committee that will respond to each concern, and seek to maximize compliance with each of the wishes of the neighbors, including relocation of the site if the community does not want the facility.
??emphasize infill and reuse of existing buildings, and greenfields development only as a last resort.
??limit the footprint of a building to 1 acre, with a total size limit of three stories.
??locate parking underground, or in an enclosed building, bringing the store itself up to the street wall.
??avoid “monolithic” design by involving local people in the conceptual planning for the store and the open space around it.
??avoid locating any store within 10 miles of another WM store.
??avoid building on land that is environmentally, culturally or historically sensitive.
??For stores that you leave empty, pay the communities for the cost of tearing down the building and restoring the site to pre-development conditions.
2.Adopt the following personnel practices:
??increase the pay for workers to ensure that no employee, on an FTE basis, is working below the poverty level based on their family size, and seek to increase pay for all workers at least 10% above the prevailing wage for that trade area.
??end the practice of mid week payroll adjustments that punish workers if sales drop.
??end the practice of “off the clock” work.
??end violations of child labor laws and meal and rest break laws.
??increase the % of workers receiving company-sponsored health insurance, and seek to spend at least 8% of payroll for health insurance benefits.
??establish a Board committee that reviews all reports of discrimination against workers, including gender, disability and minority discrimination charges, and make an annual report to stockholders of such reports.
??Publish a list of all vendor factories, and underwrite the cost of at least semi-annual unannounced independent inspections of those factories.
??Close down immediately the warehouse at Teotihuacan, Mexico and not try to open any other stores on culturally important areas such as Juchitan, Oaxaca and Patzuaro, Michoacan. The National Commission on human rights intervened and found that the Wal-Mart Teotihuacan store was unconstitutional because of its illegality. It also declared that it is potentially damaging to world heritage.