July 6, 2005 – Activists challenged the nationâ€™s largest pension investment companyâ€™s claims that it is socially responsible yesterday with a staged protest at its Boston headquarters. The coalition is demanding that the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equity Fund (TIAA-CREF) divest stock held in Coca Cola and Wal-Mart.
Members of the group Make TIAA-CREF Ethical stood in front of the investment companyâ€™s offices handing out "Killer Coke Dollars" and "Walton Bucks," yesterday, in an effort to draw attention to what they say are unethical practices by both companies. The reverse side of the protest cash carried messages calling for divestment from Wal-Mart and laying out allegations that Coke promotes childhood obesity through advertising.
Wal-Mart has come under intense criticism in recent years for its low wages and numerous labor law violations as well as for its alleged use of predatory business practices and tacit support of sweatshop labor in factories that supply the retail giant.
As reported by The NewStandard, Coke has been implicated in environmental violations in India and knowingly using contractors that support right wing paramilitary groups in Columbia. Additionally, critics charge that the company is targeting youth with advertising and gimmicks, thus contributing to obesity among US children.
According to Make TIAA-CREF Ethical, the pension investment company held over 23 million shares in Wal-Mart at the beginning of the year. Coke is included in investments made under the Social Choice accounts, which are intended to be a flagship program of socially responsible investing.
TIAA-CREF states that stocks in the Social Choice program are chosen based on the companyâ€™s "respect for the natural environment; strong charitable giving and employee benefits programs; the presence of women and minorities in leadership positions; quality products and leadership in research and development; and the payment of fair wages and protection of the environment where they operate." However, the firm notes, "Concerns identified in one area will not automatically eliminate the company from the portfolio."