The ruthless free market that knows only profit or a kinder, gentler government that helps the downtrodden: that’s the perpetual dichotomy in politics. Though, once in a while, this thinking is turned on its head.
This week, New York-based asset manager TIAA-CREF became the first big US fund to divest holdings in state-owned enterprises out of human rights concerns. It sold stake worth $60 million in three Chinese oil companies, as well as India’s ONGC, because of their investments in energy-rich, but authoritarian, Sudan.
We won’t be naïve enough to assert that TIAA-CREF’s decision was fully on moral grounds; it could be public relations management. But that’s the market’s charm: It can price in an investor’s greed as much as ethics. Governments aren’t so adept.
TIAA-CREF hopes to wake these regimes up. But should they? Governments can’t always care about such plight, but they can borrow a page out of the market’s book. It’s time a kinder, gentler market taught ruthless governments a little PR. Let’s just call it a new form of corporate social responsibility.