TIAA-CREF gives 9-month ultimatum to PetroChina and Sudan companies and calls for PRI pressure

US fund lays out time-frame for talks against threat of divestment with Sudan linked oil giants.

TIAACREF, the giant $400bn (€314bn) US pension plan and investment fund group for US teachers and researchers, has given companies operating in Sudan, including PetroChina, CNPC Hong Kong, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Sinopec, and PETRONAS, nine months to agree to meetings regarding their influence over the Sudanese government and the alleged genocide that has taken place in the country, or face being publicly dumped from their investment portfolios. The move by the US fund is one of the most overt investor attempts to kick-start dialogue with companies in Sudan who investors and NGOs say are unwilling to discuss their links to the Sudanese authorities. Since 2003, more than 200,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan where the government is accused of using militia death squads against its non-Arab population. In a bid to internationalise the campaign against the Sudan-linked companies, TIAACREF said it had publicly endorsed the U.N.-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) and would urge its investor signatories, which represent a combined $2.5 trillion in assets under management, to join the campaign to force companiesoperating in Sudan to confront human rights abuses in the country. The US fund said that if the named companies refused to meet with investors, it would divest promptly. It added: “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. If a company takes meaningful steps to ease suffering and attempts to end genocide, we will remove it from our divestment list and continue the dialogue to assure changes occur.” The campaign was welcomed by US Senators. Representative Joseph Crowley, who serves New York’s 7th District and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: “I applaud TIAACREF for making the decision to endorse the UNPRI. As the situation in Darfur grows more desperate, investors everywhere have a moral obligation to stop their support of a criminal regime. By accepting these principles, TIAACREF can help lead the way for others to join them in putting pressure on the Sudanese government to respect human rights and stop the genocide in Darfur.”

Last month, TIAACREF, came under fire from NGOs who accused it of increasing its controversial equity

holding in PetroChina while simultaneously lobbying the company to use its influence to challenge the Sudanese government. The fund began efforts to lobby companies in Sudan in 2006 and said it had since targeted 22 companies, of which 10 had either discontinued operations in Sudan or committed to humanitarian initiatives, such as improving education, health and water supplies. In December 2007, the US House of Representatives and the Senate unanimouslypassed the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act, signed by President Bush, which enabled states and institutions to legally divest from Sudan. By July 2008, 27 states and approximately 61 colleges and universities had decided to divest from Sudan.
Campaigners have also targeted US mutual fund firms including Franklin Templeton, American Funds, and Fidelity, which have been amongst the largest holders of PetroChina shares.