Three dozen activists and Burmese exiles rallied outside the New York headquarters of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF). The pension fund totals $260 billion and held its annual shareholders meeting in North Carolina.
Zaw Win of the New York Free Burma Coalition said that the fund holds shares by the U.S. oil company Unocal, which operates in Burma, and Singapore Technologies, a subsidiary of which supplies arms to the junta.
More than 100 shareholders, including many academics, wrote an open protest letter to TIAA-CREF, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association College Retirement Equities Fund. TIAA-CREF currently holds 1,843,000 shares of stock in Unocal (NYSE: UCL).
Unocal's gas pipeline project in Burma has served as one of the largest sources of revenue for the military regime outside of the illegal heroin trade. In addition, the construction of Unocal's gas pipeline and ancillary infrastructure in Burma has been connected to gross human rights violations.
In the course of providing security for Unocal's pipeline project, the Burmese military killed, raped, tortured and subjected thousands of indigenous peoples living in the pipeline area, especially the Karen, Mon and Tavoy peoples, to forced labor and slave-like working conditions.
The Free Burma Coalition wants TIAA-CREF to divest from companies doing business in Burma, such as Unocal and Singapore Technologies. The protest called on the international community to pressure the military regime to respect human rights and implement democratic reforms.
Infact-Free Tibet Groups, Global Sweatshop, Social Choice for Social Change, Hunters College New York Public Interests Group, Campaign for a New TIAA-CREF and the World Bank Bonds Boycott groups also joined the protest.