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TIAA-CREF Divests Social Choice Fund from Controversial Veolia Corporation

November 2013

Grassroots International and its partners in the We Divest coalition join activists from around the country in congratulating TIAA-CREF for taking a step toward living up to its motto, “Investment for the Greater Good”.  “TIAA-CREF has made a move in the right direction by divesting its Social Choice Fund of Veolia stock given that Veolia’s business model and practices have consistently put profit over people — whether privatizing water resources around the world, or enabling Israeli occupation and segregation in the West Bank. This is a victory for all those concerned with human rights and justice,” said Nikhil Aziz, Executive Director of Grassroots International.

Read the full press release below.

TIAA-CREF Divests Social Choice Fund from Controversial Veolia Corporation

November 14, 2013

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The We Divest coalition joins workers, environmentalists, and corporate accountability organizations in congratulating pension fund giant TIAA-CREF for removing Veolia Environment SA stock (VIE:EN Paris) from its Social Choice Funds portfolio. In July 2013, TIAA-CREF’s website showed over $1.2 million in Veolia shares for its Social Choice Funds. Today it shows zero. TIAA-CREF still holds Veolia stock in its regular accounts.

“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?” said Lincoln Pain, a Certified Financial Planner practitioner, specializing in socially responsible investments for over 27 years.

“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. “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.”

“As the largest private operator of municipal water and sewer systems in the United States, Veolia Water North America has an atrocious track-record and was kicked out of six different cities and towns in the US last year alone,” said Matt Ohloff, organizer with Food & Water Watch. “Water privatization is not socially responsible, nor is Veolia.”

“It is no coincidence that Veolia has a poor record on labor and environmental issues given its violations of international humanitarian law in Palestine. The complicity of multinationals in illegal projects in such a contested conflict zone reflects poor governance and risk management, and is often related to other corporate abuses. These companies have no place on any socially responsible investment portfolio,” said Dalit Baum, Middle East Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

Veolia has been the target of boycott and divestment campaigns worldwide by Palestine solidarity activists. Veolia was invested in bus lines on segregated West Bank roads until recently, when it ended the practice under intense worldwide pressure. However, Veolia continues its controversial support of illegal Israeli settlements. A United Nations report warned last year that that the engagement of Veolia and similar companies in the West Bank could cause “damage to a company’s public image and impact on shareholder decisions and share price, and could result in employees being criminally responsible for rights abuses.”

Following public campaigns spanning four continents, Veolia has lost or failed to secure contracts totaling more than $18 billion worldwide. 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.

What others are saying across the country:

Steve Tamari, St. Louis Dump Veolia Coalition
“As a TIAA-CREF client and as a Palestinian-American, I am gratified to hear that Veolia is no longer in TIAA-CREF’s Social Choice account. Veolia has no business calling itself ‘socially-responsible’ and TIAA-CREF is wise to divest. This is a testament to the extraordinary work of progressive communities worldwide in exposing Veolia’s true colors.”

Erin McNally-Diaz, Corporate Accountability International
“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 U.S. and around the world has created significant risk and liability for investors. This move should come as no surprise to Veolia, a corporation that has a track record of failed contracts, rate hikes, labor abuses and shut-offs for those who can’t afford to pay—all in the name of profit,” said Erin McNally-Diaz, campaign director at Corporate Accountability International’s Public Water Works! campaign. “In an attempt to expand the market for water privatization in the U.S., Veolia has turned to the same backroom deals and political interference that has earned the corporation its negative reputation in communities all over the world. We applaud the coalition organizing on this issue for their work bringing Veolia’s abuses to light and to the attention of socially-responsible pension funds. We also commend TIAA-CREF for taking this important step to disassociate this harmful corporation from its Social Choice Funds and call on all socially responsible funds to do the same.”

USW Local 8751, Committee to Defend the Boston School Bus 5
“The Committee to Defend the Boston School Bus 5 is gratified that TIAA-CREF and other funds are divesting from the Veolia Corporation. Veolia is engaged in very harmful union-busting here in Boston and our community coalition supports the work of the We Divest coalition.”

Marcela Olivera, Coordinator of Red VIDA Inter-American Water Justice Network
“In the1990’s, many public water utilities were privatized, particularly in Latin America, Asia and Africa, under pressure from financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF and their primary neoliberal government underwriters. Veolia and its French partner, Suez, were the biggest beneficiaries and became the biggest failures. Most of their global operations failed to provide water to the people.  They failed to meet expansion goals; they increased water prices beyond what most people could afford; they promoted expensive connection fees that prevented water access by the poor; and they laid off workers to increase profits.  As a result, people around the world mobilized against these practices, leading to termination of many of the contracts. But Veolia and Suez have not only failed to provide water to people abroad, they have also failed at home where they have controlled water services since the late 19th century. More than 40 French municipalities and communities have taken their water services back in the last decade and the list of countries that have re-municipalized their water services in the world is still growing.”

Stop Veolia Seattle
“We are excited by the impact this success will have on movements and communities around the world. From water justice to Palestinian justice, labor justice to disability justice, from Latin America to India, the Philippines and beyond, we celebrate the power of this triumph. In Seattle we are working to not only end Veolia’s contract with Metro Access, but also to unite communities striving for workers’ rights, disabled persons’ rights, and the rights of all people to a living wage, clean water, and safe, affordable transit. We join together to end Veolia’s practices of privatization and exploitation of workers.”

Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights, on behalf of the 16 groups of the Transit Accountability Coalition/Derail Veolia
“As Bostonians we remember well the damaging protests against school busing and the iconic photograph that shocked so many Americans into an awareness that racism and discrimination are hardly confined to the South. Veolia, a company that only very recently sold off segregated bus lines serving the settlements in the occupied West Bank, has proven susceptible to pressure. They have much to answer for in Palestine, and here in Massachusetts, where they are the major stakeholder in an insider-dealing conglomerate that has virtually privatized the fifth largest commuter rail network in the country leading to a big drop in ridership, incurred hefty fines from OSHA for worker abuses, and defrauded the Commonwealth’s  taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars.”

Driver (who prefers to remain anonymous) for MV Paratransit, subcontracted by Veolia in San Francisco
“Veolia is a very dangerous corporation. Veolia is going after all the Bay Area private transportation contracts in addition to the union busting at the public transit level.”

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