Dutch Pension Asset Manager PGGM Shuns Wal-Mart Stock

Dutch asset manager PGGM NV, which oversees more than 140 billion euros ($183 billion) in retirement savings, said it will cease investing in Wal-Mart Stores Inc. because the world’s largest retailer declined to address its concerns over labor relations in the U.S.

The exclusion followed “a protracted period” in which PGGM expressed disquiet about “poor labor relations” in Wal-Mart’s domestic operations, the Zeist, Netherlands-based investor said in a statement today. Wal-Mart’s board declined to directly discuss the matter, PGGM said. A European spokesman for the retailer didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

PGGM is selling Wal-Mart shares worth about 200 million euros that it held on behalf of clients, Maurice Wilbrink, a spokesman for the asset manager, said today. It isn’t the only party critical of the retailer’s working conditions. Labor groups have also called for improvements, with protesters from OUR Walmart, a union-backed employee group, descending on the headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas for last month’s annual meeting.

PGGM said it opposes Wal-Mart’s policy in the U.S. that restricts employees’ opportunities to organize themselves in unions. The money manager also asked questions about allegations of bribery in its Mexican unit, according to today’s statement.

PGGM retained its holdings in Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB and has indicated it wants to discuss the matter, Wilbrink said. The asset manager’s biggest client, Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, held 34 million euros of Wal-Mart shares at the end of 2012, according to an investment list on the fund’s website.

Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP, the biggest Dutch pension fund with 292 billion euros in retirement savings, already added Wal-Mart to its list of excluded investments as of January 2012. At that point PGGM still saw reasons to maintain a dialog with the company, Wilbrink said.

(PGGM corrects comments in third paragraph to show it is still in the process of selling Wal-Mart shares.)
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