Wednesday, April 03, 2013

CREF Deaf to Shareholders’ Socially Responsible Investment Concerns: Retirement Giant Refuses to Place Human Rights Issue on its Shareholder Ballot
March 26, 2013
Contact: We Divest Campaign, ;

ST LOUIS – TIAA-CREF has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to protect it from liability for refusing to allow its participants to vote on a shareholder proposal. The proposal, submitted by over 200 clients, asks trustees to end investments in companies that profit from serious human rights violations, including those profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

The proposal cites as one example Veolia Environnement, a company profiting from the operation of settler-only buses on segregated roads and a landfill dumping Israeli waste on Palestinian villages’ lands in the West Bank. Said Steve Tamari, a Palestinian-American educator and member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, on behalf of hundreds of CREF filers who signed onto the resolution:

“TIAA-CREF has not only ignored our moral concerns, but now refuses to let us vote or have any voice on the issue. We are hundreds of investors who are deeply troubled that we are forced to support segregation and other abhorrent human rights violations in order to maintain our retirement accounts.”

The Company has made legalistic objections to keep its clients from voting on the issue, taking the position that pervasive segregation, widespread land theft that deprives a farming population of its livelihoods and food, and other major and more violent human rights violations are not sufficiently “significant” social policy issues to justify a shareholder vote. This last assertion comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, where he stated that “continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace,” and “the Palestinian people deserve an end to occupation and the daily indignities that come with it” (March 21, 2013).

Condemnation of the Israeli occupation on human rights grounds has swept from Europe -- where public pension funds, banks, and other major institutions have divested billions from companies involved in the occupation, including Veolia, which has lost more than $15 billion in contracts following boycott and divestment campaigns -- to the U.S. Veolia’s bids for contracts around the country have been heavily contested, shelved, or withdrawn completely in cities including St. Louis, Boston, Los Angeles, and Yolo County, Calif. Three campuses of the University of California recently adopted divestment resolutions. And when the Brooklyn City Council tried to squelch an event last month on divestment and similar campaigns, the Council was strongly and widely condemned -- by the mayor of New York, among others -- for trying to stifle free speech. TIAA-CREF now aligns itself with that same anti-democratic spirit.

The We Divest Campaign, a coalition effort that began in 2010 urging TIAA-CREF to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation, is calling the Company’s refusal to hear their own clients’ human rights concerns a “double standard,” given TIAA-CREF’s otherwise active promotion of shareholder resolutions directed at companies in which it invests.

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