Dutch public pension fund divests itself of Walmart stock

Algemeen Burgerlijk Pensioenfonds (ABP) of the Netherlands announced last week that it would divest itself of Walmart stock and not buy anymore until the giant international retailer improves its poor labor practices and changes its anti-union position. ABP is the world’s third largest public pension fund with more than $300 billion worth of assets.

“This is an important day for Walmart associates who want to be treated with respect,” said Jennifer Stapleton, assistant director of the Making Change at Walmart campaign. “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.”

Making Change at Walmart is an organization that includes Walmart associates, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) locals, and community leaders across the US.

ABP made its decision after a group of Walmart associates and a staff member of UCFW made a presentation to an ABP shareholders meeting where they told shareholders some of the problems that Walmart associates face and argued that Walmart’s labor practices represented a threat to Walmart’s long-term value.

Ernestine Bassett, who works for Walmart at a store in Laurel, Maryland and is a leader in Organization United for Respect at Walmart, a nationwide organization of Walmart employees fighting for respect and dignity on the job, was happy to learn of ABP’s decision, which she said validated her own experience as a Walmart associate.

“I’ve been targeted for simply talking to my co-workers about working together to improve things at our store, Bassett said.  “I’m subject to all kinds of arbitrary discipline and unfairly written up by management. In fact, my managers often refuse to let me go to the bathroom, despite the fact that I have diabetes. I’m glad that ABP has heard the cry for respect coming from Walmart workers.”

ABP in 2008 wrote a letter to Walmart expressing its concerns about Walmart’s labor practices that it considered to be in violation of the United Nation’s Global Compact, which among other things states that businesses should uphold the right of free association for their employees and recognize employees’ right to bargain collectively. Among other concerns, ABP thought that the high number of US National Labor Relations Board complaints filed against Walmart demonstrated an anti-union bias at Walmart.

In 2011, ABP said that Walmart was making progress toward addressing concerns raised by the pension fund, which in September 2011 owned $147 million in Walmart stock. That statement was made before Walmart associates addressed the shareholders meeting and before staff at ABP saw a job posting for the position of director of labor relations on the Walmart website, which listed one of the position’s responsibilities as supporting a “continued union-free workplace.”

ABP is the second public pension fund to divest itself of Walmart stock. The Government Pension Fund of Norway did so in 2006.

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