Unitarian group drops Fidelity over Sudan
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BOSTON (Reuters) - The Unitarian Universalist Association said it will replace Fidelity Investments as recordkeeper on its retirement plan, citing "disappointment" with the Boston mutual fund company's record on human rights, including its holdings in companies that do business in Sudan.
Discussions are still happening, but the group likely will offer funds from Wells Fargo & Co and some lifecycle funds from T Rowe Price Group Inc, said Tim Brennan, the Unitarians' chief financial officer.
The Unitarian group, a religious association of more than 1,000 congregations, also will offer funds from socially responsible investment companies, he said.
Fidelity has faced criticism in the past from social and religious groups over its holdings in companies that do business in countries such as Sudan. Many public and academic pension funds already have sold shares in these companies.
Last year the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan's president Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes in the country's western Darfur region. Bashir rejects the charges.
Technically, the Unitarians are taking a different approach. The organization said it plans to drop Fidelity as its retirement "recordkeeper" through which Unitarian ministers and other employees could invest in mutual funds including those run by Fidelity and those of other fund firms.
In its place, the Unitarians will use as recordkeeper TIAA-CREF, the New York asset manager known for clients in the nonprofit sector like teachers and doctors. In all it will move 2,800 retirement accounts with a total of $178 million in investments to TIAA-CREF, which in turn will make available the funds offered by Wells Fargo, T Rowe Price and others.
Most of the 2,800 accounts in question are held by ministers of local Unitarian congregations.
TIAA-CREF sold holdings tied to Sudan earlier this year, drawing praise from activist groups like Investors Against Genocide that had pressed for the change.
A Fidelity spokesman reiterated the company's position that it may do more good by staying invested in some companies in order to monitor and oppose troublesome practices.
The company also offers socially responsible funds, he said. A statement on Sudan, posted on the company's website, read "Though we do not like to admit it, as investment advisors it is very difficult for us to evaluate cause-and-effect relationships in a social and political situation as sensitive as this," the statement read.
The new funds that the Unitarian Universalist Association will offer will largely exclude holdings in companies doing business in Sudan, said Tim Brennan, the association's chief financial officer.
T Rowe Price, for example, had already sold stocks that in its view, "pose high risk due to their ties to the Sudanese government and its connection to human rights abuses," according to a company statement.
A Wells Fargo fund that the Unitarians plan to offer will be largely US bonds with limited international exposure, Brennan said.
(Reporting by Ross Kerber. Editing by Robert MacMillan)