Pension fund divests from Walmart for violating global labor standards

By Muriel Kane
Friday, January 6, 2012 20:05 EDT
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The largest pension fund in the Netherlands has divested itself of all shares in Walmart as a result of the company’s anti-union position and poor labor standards.

According to the Huffington Post, Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds declared earlier this week that it was blacklisting Walmart for its non-compliance with the United Nations’ Global Compact, which “presents a set of core values relating to human rights, labor standards, the environment and anti-corruption efforts.”

ABP has been trying for years to convince the retail giant to change its policies. The firm first came to ABP’s attention in 2007, when the fund established a “socially responsible investing” policy and was “struck by the staggering number of lawsuits and National Labor Relations Board complaints” against Walmart.

Fund representatives began an extensive series of meetings with Walmart management the following year, repeatedly encouraging them to improve their labor and environmental practices. Despite occasional minor signs of a change in attitudes, however, ABP ultimately concluded that Walmart still fell far short of its standards and decided to withdraw its investments, which as of last summer amounted to about $121 million.

“There has been a change, but in the end we had to conclude that it was not enough,” ABP sustainability specialist Anna Pot told the Huffington Post. “We felt that if the workers are not happy, then what does it mean for the company?”

ABP’s decision was driven in part by an event at Walmart’s annual investor meeting last fall, when a small group of workers and a union analyst attempted to convince attendees that Walmart’s labor practices were negatively affecting its value as a long-term investment. Walmart dismessed the presentation as an attention-seeking stunt by a “bunch of malcontents,” but Pot, who was present at the meeting, took it very seriously.

Pot emphasizes that ABP will gladly invest in Walmart again if it sees proof that the firm intends to change its ways, but she also points to an ad Walmart ran last summer for a director of labor relations whose duties would include supporting a “continued union free workplace.”

“As we see lines like that,” she notes, “we know that is not yet the case.”

Socially responsible investing appears to be a growing trend — but there are still no signs that any major US pension funds are about to follow ABP’s lead.

Photo by see Image talk:Walmart exterior.jpg This file was made by User:Sven [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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