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.