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TIAA-CREF Challenged Over Issues of Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility

Published 12-16-03

Submitted by Infact

NEW YORK--As issues of corporate governance continue to rock Wall Street firms, the nation's largest pension fund is once again coming under fire. At the CREF annual meeting, advocacy groups are joining shareholders to demand that TIAA-CREF -- the $300 billion pension fund for educators and researchers -- take advantage of the holiday spirit and become more accountable. As demonstrators picket outside TIAA-CREF headquarters with banners, placards, holiday attire, and live music, shareholders will speak-out inside the CREF annual shareholders' meeting. Recent exposure of TIAA-CREF Chair and CEO Herbert Allison's 2003 pay package of at least $9.5 million is fueling calls for the pension fund to improve its corporate governance.

Three shareholder resolutions on corporate governance are on the agenda for the meeting. The resolutions urge the pension fund to: require that different people hold the positions of CEO and Chair of the Board; re-establish the independent committee that nominated some trustees; and adopt the governance recommendations of the Conference Board's "blue ribbon" commission. Resolutions proposing that CREF divest from tobacco and gold mining corporations are also on the ballot. The annual meeting was moved from mid-November to December 15th because of mistakes made in sending out ballot and proxy information.

"For a group that is indeed a leader in corporate governance reform, TIAA-CREF is amazingly weak and contradictory in a number of areas in their own governance. The resolutions point out some of these areas. Someone has to watch this watch-dog," says Neil Wollman, Senior Fellow and Professor at Manchester College.

Pressure groups are also asking TIAA-CREF to do the following: (1) drop its stock in Philip Morris/Altria, the world's largest tobacco corporation; (2) remove Nike and Wal-Mart from the fund's portfolio due to their notorious sweatshop abuses; (3) divest of British Petroleum because of this company's involvement in egregious human rights violations associated with gas extraction in Chinese-occupied Tibet; (4) take action on Unocal, a company in its stock portfolio that is invested in Burma, which has one of the world's worst human rights records; and (5) demand that Costco close its illegal warehouses in Cuernavaca, Mexico, or divest because of human rights and environmental abuses. Also, after eliminating their past holdings, TIAA-CREF needs to vow no new purchases of World Bank bonds.

In its Policy Statement on Corporate Governance, TIAA-CREF says they factor social concerns into all investment decisions and that doing so builds long term shareholder value ("TIAA-CREF: A Concerned Investor"). The policy states that companies should be concerned with "environmental impact...the corporation's communities and constituencies...deliberate and knowing exploitation of any non-shareholder constituencies," yet they won't reveal how they do so.

"It is, quite simply, unacceptable for TIAA-CREF to continue to invest teachers' pension funds in some of the world's most abusive corporations. Providing alternatives does not end TIAA-CREF's complicity in the abhorrent practices of corporations like Philip Morris/Altria, Nike, Unocal, Costco and BP," says Patti Lynn, Campaign Director for the national corporate accountability organization Infact. "There is no better time than the holiday season to have a change of heart and institute policies that will save lives and protect workers and the environment."

One group has pushed for years for the financial giant to invest, instead, in institutions that make a positive difference in peoples' lives. Former CEO John Biggs had said that he would support the creation of a new retirement fund that moved in that direction, but that there was a need to show financial interest from shareholders. To date, shareholders have pledged over $17 million to such a possible fund-but TIAA-CREF still resists.

Howard Zinn, noted historian, says, "I hope that more and more people will insist that TIAA-CREF funds be invested in socially responsible ways." University of Pittsburgh Professor Dennis Brutus, the anti-apartheid campaigner who spent time in prison with Nelson Mandela for opposing the racist apartheid government in South Africa, says, "Not only interest, but the interests of the people must be borne in mind when making sound and moral decisions."

The US Campaign for Burma * Infact * International Tibet Independence Movement * Press for Change * Social Choice for Social Change * Students for a Free Tibet * U.S. Tibet Committee * World Bank Bonds Boycott* Citizens Coalition

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