TIAA-CREF was asked by a coalition called Make TIAA-CREF Ethical to divest its Altria Group Inc. stock because of its tobacco operations. The coalition is also asking TIAA-CREF to pressure five other U.S. companies to end alleged labor and other abuses, or to divest the stocks.
In addition, the coalition asked TIAA-CREF to pledge not to buy new World Bank bonds "as long as bank policies contribute to economic instability around the globe," according to a coalition statement.
"TIAA-CREF has been a leader in some ways in promoting corporate responsibility; we want them to live up to that regarding our concerns," Jeffrey Ballinger, coalition spokesman, said in the statement. "Our members have witnessed firsthand the attacks on the environment, health, labor and human culture perpetrated by irresponsible corporations. … TIAA-CREF's economic clout gives it the power to also promote positive change, like community development, while still protecting the investment of retirees.
Mr. Ballinger, a doctoral student in political science at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, said institutional investors often don't want to look at social responsibility issues at particular companies because their investment returns have been good.
Stephanie Cohen Glass, TIAA-CREF director of corporate communications, said a number of the issues that concern the coalition have been brought before TIAA-CREF shareholders at previous annual meetings and overwhelmingly rejected. She added that TIAA-CREF welcomes discussion on the issues and appreciates the deeply held views of some participants, but the firm has a fiduciary obligation to all its participants. She noted that TIAA-CREF offers its Social Choice fund for participants who are concerned with socially responsible investing.
TIAA-CREF's deadline for filing proposals is Feb. 10. Its annual meeting likely will be in July, she said.