Big US pension fund may divest Sudan-linked stakes

BOSTON, (Reuters) – A US pension fund that is  one of the world’s largest money managers threatened yesterday to divest from Sudan-linked holdings within a year in  protest against human rights abuses in Sudan’s Darfur region.

New York-based TIAA-CREF said it will tell companies in  which it holds stock to cease relations with Sudan or work to  ease suffering in Darfur, where international experts say  200,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been uprooted  since 2003.

The announcement is among the biggest victories yet for  activists who have waged a campaign to pressure U.S. money  managers into divesting from PetroChina Co Ltd and other  companies with ties to the oil industry in Sudan, which the  U.S. government accuses of complicity in genocide.

“For us it’s a breakthrough,” said Eric Cohen, chairman of  Investors Against Genocide, a Boston nonprofit group. “It’s the  first clear commitment that a major financial institution has  taken to not connect their customers with genocide.”
TIAA-CREF, which manages $363 billion, said it would seek  meetings with executives from PetroChina and its parent, China  National Petroleum Corp, along with India’s state- run Oil and  Natural Gas Corp Ltd, China’s Sinopec Corp and Malaysia’s state  oil company, Petronas.

If within nine months the companies fail to either end ties  to Sudan or take “positive and meaningful humanitarian steps  and attempt to end genocide,” TIAA-CREF said it will divest  their shares from its accounts.

If the companies refuse to meet TIAA-CREF executives, the  money manager said it “will divest promptly.”
“If they agree to engage in a productive dialogue, we will  continue to hold their shares as long as progress continues and  as long as portfolio management concerns warrant,” said the  money manager, which bills itself as America’s largest provider  of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and  cultural fields.

Human rights activists have waged a three-year campaign to  persuade money managers to divest Sudan-linked holdings in  protest against human rights abuses in Darfur.

The activists targeted Fidelity Investments, Warren  Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc and other funds over their  holdings in PetroChina and other Asia-based oil companies with  ties to Sudan.

They have had some success. Many US universities and  states have taken steps to divest Sudan-linked holdings. In  2007, a Fidelity fund sold a big piece of its PetroChina  holdings, while Buffett sold his entire holding.

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