Shareholders and advocacy groups will press the giant pension fund, TIAA-CREF, at its annual shareholders meetings on July 15th in Denver, Colorado, to “reform or dump” their enormous investments in companies like Wal-Mart, which engage in socially irresponsible practices. After years of pressure, TIAA-CREF agreed to become a shareholder activist on issues of social responsibility. A group called “The Make TIAA-CREF Ethical Coalition” says it’s time for the pension fund to either put pressure on five industry leaders that consistently display egregious behavior, or divest their stock. Advocacy groups will join shareholders to demand greater accountability from TIAA-CREF, the $400 billion plus fund that primarily serves college personnel. In 2007, resolutions were passed by the 600,000 member New York State United Teachers and 1.4 million member American Federation of Teachers critical of TIAA-CREF’s continued investment in Nike, Coca-Cola, and Wal-Mart, three of the five companies the TIAA-CREF Coalition targets. They asked TIAA-CREF to hold these and other companies accountable on labor issues. Educators and those working alongside them have spent their careers teaching students the truth about the world around them. The truth is that TIAA-CREF continues to invest funds in these corporate bad actors. The Make TIAA- CREF Ethical Coalition notes that TIAA-CREF invests in companies with reprehensible records despite claims in its advertisements that it provides “financial services for the greater good” and is “mindful of its social responsibilities.” Its Policy Statement on Corporate Governance states, “TIAA-CREF recognizes that from the perspective of shareholder value, boards should carefully consider the strategic impact of issues relating to the environment and social responsibility. There is a growing body of research examining the economic consequences of companies’ efforts to promote good environmental and social practices we believe that companies and boards should pay careful attention to…Environment…Human Rights…Diversity…the safety and potential impact of its products and services…the common good of the communities in which it operates.” At the same time, TIAA-CREF invests in: Nike and Wal-Mart, condemned for selling products produced by overseas sweatshop labor; Wal-Mart, widely criticized for its domestic labor practices, hurting local businesses, and promoting urban sprawl; Philip Morris/Altria, responsible for Marlboro, the leading cigarette for youth; Costco, which promotes police brutality in Mexico and the destruction of its cultural heritage and the environment; Coke, with complicity in widespread labor, human rights and environmental abuses; exploits child labor and aggressively markets harmful products to children.
There is precedent for asking CREF to divest from such unethical holdings. TIAA-CREF did divest from harmful World Bank bonds. The Coalition says that TIAA TIAA-CREF should use its considerable shareholder power to influence these corporate leaders, or divest from their stock. They have been in dialogue with Coca-Cola for at least two years, with no substantive changes in Coke’s actions. TIAA-CREF lists advocacy tools in its promotional materials, from private talking to public dialogue to collective action to litigation and regulatory reform. The Coalition says, “Get started on these tougher ways that will be necessary in order to move Coke.” The Coalition was recently told that TIAA-CREF had spoken with Wal-Mart this year. “We applaud that start, but more aggressive actions will be needed with Wal-Mart, as well,” a Coalition spokesman said. According to activist and coalition representative Jaime Lagunez, of Frente Civico por la Defensa del Casino de la Selva, “For a group claiming leadership in governance and social responsibility, they need to look in the mirror and recognize their own shortcomings. They need to deal with corporations in their portfolios involved in human rights violations and environmental degradation.” According to Coalition group representative Neil Wollman, a Senior Fellow at Bentley College in Massachusetts, TIAA-CREF claims that outside of their socially responsible fund, they cannot use non-financial criteria in their financial decisions. Wollman says, “Our coalition praises TIAA-CREF for changes over the years in its social responsibility practices often spurred by participant lobbying; but now they need to move on our companies of concern.” The Make TIAA-CREF Ethical Coalition includes: Corporate Accountability International (formerly Infact), World Bank Bonds Boycott, Press for Change, Social Choice for Social Change, Canadian Committee To Combat Crimes Against Humanity (CCCCH) , Citizens Coalition (Frente Civico), Educating for Justice, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Campaign to Stop Killer Coke/Corporate Campaign, Inc., Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and Sprawl-Busters. To find out how you can lobby TIAA-CREF to pressure Wal-Mart for change, contact the Coalition at: [email protected], or go to