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TIAA-CREF: Pension Fund Inconsistent on Social Responsibility

Pension Giant and Governance Watchdog TIAA-CREF Gets a Taste of its Own Medicine at Annual Meeting
Infact
December 13th, 2001

For Immediate Release
Contact: Patti Lynn/Infact, 617-695-2525

BOSTON (December 11, 2001) -- A coalition of human rights and corporate accountability organizations is calling attention to the contradictions between the public image and the reality behind TIAA-CREF. As one of the worlds largest pension funds, TIAA-CREF has gained a deserved good reputation for pushing good corporate governance in its portfolio companies. However, according to the TIAA-CREF: Out of the Bad and Into the Good Coalition, the pension giant has violated its own governance principles in significant ways that don't support shareholders.

Additionally, CREF is known for being socially concerned, yet they sometimes assert neutrality: "TIAA-CREF does not express approval or disapproval of any particular business activity or company." At other times they acknowledge certain activity as being socially responsible, but say that is desirable [only] because it adds to shareholder value. A third perspective, expressed in the booklet "TIAA-CREF: A Concerned Investor," asserts social concern for its own sake.

CREFs inconsistent stances on socially responsible investment seem to further the pension funds self-interest. One group of professors has battled for years to get CREF to invest in particularly responsible companies in its socially responsible fund. This fund was rated dead last on social responsibility for not doing so; while CREF's own survey revealed that 81% of fund participants want this approach.

CREF practices good ethics in its own workplace, citing that they are "...committed to maintaining a safe, healthy, ... environment." Yet even its socially responsible fund invests in Nike, notorious for sweatshop abuses. CREF also holds investments in deadly tobacco (Philip Morris), energy companies tied to brutal dictatorships (BP and Unocal), and ventures promoting devastation in the Global South (World Bank Bonds).

At the recent shareholder meeting, 40 activists demonstrated outside, while over a dozen were inside. Dennis Brutus, renowned anti-apartheid activist, criticized CREF's investment policies, while activists silently held signs for the different causes. Discussion was dominated by social concern issues. One attendee urged CREF trustees to imagine "Tobacco Portraits of Grief," modeled on the New York Times vignettes of September 11th victims. Another told about a pregnant mother who was kicked by an SPDC soldier in Burma who was forcefully relocating them because of Unocal's pipeline project. One activist requested divestment of BP because of its involvement in a gas project that will help the Chinese government solidify its brutal hold on Tibet.

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The "TIAA-CREF: Out of the Bad and into the Good" coalition include Free Burma Coalition, Students for a Free Tibet, U.S. Tibet Committee, Infact, Global Sweatshop Coalition, Press for Change, Social Choice for Social Change, and World Bank Bonds Boycott.