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(Wissam Nassar / Maan Images)

Pension giant TIAA-CREF drops Veolia from Social Choice fund

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Activists in Los Angeles tell the city to “Dump Veolia” on 30 March, 2012. 

(Dump Veolia)

The We Divest coalition yesterday announced a landmark victory in its campaign to persuade US pensions giant TIAA-CREF to divest from companies profiting from Israeli occupation.

As recently as July, TIAA-CREF held a $1.2 million stake in Veolia Environnement SA (VIE:EN Paris) through its Social Choice Funds portfolio. According to the firm’s most recent documentation, that investment is now zero.

Although TIAA-CREF still holds Veolia stock in other funds, the removal of Veolia from the Social Choice fund, which screens investments based on ethical criteria, is seen as a milestone due to the company’s deep involvement in sustaining the Israeli occupation.

“TIAA-CREF made the right decision,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns at Jewish Voice for Peace and National Coordinator of the We Divest Campaign. As quoted in a press release, Rabbi Wise elaborated that, “Veolia cannot seriously be considered socially responsible given its infamous anti-labor practices, privatization of public resources, disastrous environmental practices, and ongoing servicing of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian West Bank land.”

The move by TIAA-CREF is the latest in a series of high-profile setbacks for Veolia. Under pressure from grassroots campaigns spanning four continents, the company has now lost or failed to secure contracts valued at over $18 billion.

We Divest’s press release highlighted the following:

Last month, a diverse coalition of environmental, labor, Palestinian rights, and social justice activists in St. Louis, Missouri forced the multinational to withdraw from bidding on a city water contract. In Boston, Massachusetts, a broad coalition of labor and community groups are fighting Veolia’s union-busting tactics since it took over a school bus contract. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Veolia is known for the role its attorney played in opposing BART unions, and others have been protesting against Veolia subcontractors’ poor labor practices. Additional campaigns in Sonoma County CA; Los Angeles, CA; Seattle, WA; California statewide; Boston, MA; Baltimore, MD; Washington, DC; and beyond have cast light on Veolia’s controversial practices.

The decision by TIAA-CREF, the largest fund of its kind, may inspire a ripple effect among other funds.

Erin McNally-Diaz of Corporate Accountability International stated that “TIAA-CREF’s decision to drop Veolia Environnement SA from its Social Choice Funds portfolio is a clear sign that the global water privateer’s abusive behavior in the US and around the world has created significant risk and liability for investors.

According to Lincoln Pain, a financial planner specializing in socially responsible investments for over 27 years, “Some of us in the socially responsible investment community are asking the question: does it make sense to own stock in a corporation that is violating international law in Palestine and committing so many environmental abuses around the world?”

It is clear that the campaigns are having an impact on Veolia. Its subsidiary Veolia Water North America faced strong, organized opposition from Palestinian rights, social justice and environmental groups, over the contract it signed with the city of St. Louis.

When Veolia pulled out of the deal, a city official revealed last month that the firm had concluded the contract was “not worth the damage to their business” due to the ongoing opposition.

Comments

I went to some meetings at Boston's JVP. I sent some postcards but the
effort was meaningless to me. I am not covered by or related to TIAA-CREF.
My coverage is Social Security. It seemed that I was expected to respond as
though these funds and I had a relationship of some kind. There was no
"connection" made by organizers between a recommended action and those of us who come from "the unwashed". (Used here as a a general term only.).

I knew only that I had done some small part in something JVP was trying to do.
I hope future actions will provide a direct connection. When will will you
be confronting the defense lobby (eg all players in sales of Caterpillar
from ex Senators Joe Lieberman, Chris Dodd, corporations, ex-im bank
and so forth.)??? (See John Tirman:SPOILS OF WAR....)

I