Moral Low Ground


‘The Moral High Ground’: Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds, Largest Dutch Pension Fund, Blacklists Walmart over Poor Labor Practices

One of the world’s largest pension funds has dumped its Walmart stock and blacklisted the retailing giant over its poor labor practices.

The Huffington Post reports that Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds (ABP), the largest pension fund in the Netherlands with more than $300 billion in assets, announced its decision after four years of investigation and meetings with Walmart employees and executives. ABP cited noncompliance with the United Nations’ Global Compact principles, a set of ten core values regarding human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.

(Photo: Jared C. Benedict)

ABP also blacklisted 16 other companies, including PetroChina, an arm of state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation. Five of the dumped companies are American; according to Business Wire they were dropped because they produce cluster bombs, which have been banned under an international treaty that the United States has refused to sign.

ABP’s Walmart holdings amount to around 95 million euros, or about $121 million.

The pension fund first wrote to Walmart in 2008 after establishing the framework of a responsible investment policy. Many meetings with Walmart employees and management followed. But ABP was alarmed by the massive number of lawsuits and National Labor Relations Board complaints against the retail giant. But ABP’s attempts to influence Walmart through the sheer number of shares it owned fell flat. There have been some improvements at Walmart, as ABP’s 2010 Responsible Investment Report noted, but it simply wasn’t enough to avert divestment.

“This is an important day for Walmart associates who want to be treated with respect,” Jennifer Stapleton, assistant director of Making Change at Walmart, told Business Wire. “We’re pleased to see that ABP realizes that Walmart might be saying the right thing about respecting workers, but continues to engage in all kinds of bad behavior. This should send a clear message to Walmart and its shareholders: treating workers poorly is bad for business.”

Indeed, Alex Edmans, a finance professor at the prestigious Wharton School, found that firms on Fortune’s annual “100 Best Companies to Work For in America” list earned more than double the returns of the broader market.

Walmart’s abuses are legion. According to the National Organization for Women (NOW), which named the company a “Merchant of Shame” in 2002, the retailer is guilty of: sex discrimination in pay, promotion and compensation, wage abuse, exclusion of contraceptive coverage in insurance plans, violations of child labor laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, firing pro-union workers, eliminating jobs once workers joined unions, and discouraging workers from unionizing.

ABP joins the Government Pension Fund of Norway, which divested more than $400 million worth of Walmart stock in 2006 over labor standards and union obstruction.

Below is the full-length documentary film, Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price, by director Robert Greenwald (2005):

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