Advocates call on Canada Pension Plan to divest from prison operators that detain migrants

Via The Star | Jenny Peng

VANCOUVER—Two Canadian advocacy groups are demanding that the Canada Pension Plan divest $8 million in two U.S. companies managing migrant detention centres.

Social-justice organization Leadnow in Vancouver and Toronto-based SumOfUs, a group with the goal of corporate accountability, met with members of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board’s (CPPIB) stakeholder team Wednesday.

Salvadorean migrants with children walk next to Guatemalan policemen on Nov. 2 as they continue their attempt to reach the U.S. In a joint statement by Leadnow and SumOfUs, the advocacy groups claim that two prison operators CPPIB invests in “enforce the detention and separation of immigrant children and families.”
Salvadorean migrants with children walk next to Guatemalan policemen on Nov. 2 as they continue their attempt to reach the U.S. In a joint statement by Leadnow and SumOfUs, the advocacy groups claim that two prison operators CPPIB invests in “enforce the detention and separation of immigrant children and families.”  (MARVIN RECINOS /AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Emma Pullman, campaign manager at SumOfUs, said the meeting was spurred by an investigation published by The Guardian on Oct. 12. Both groups have started their own online petitions calling for CPPIB to stop investing in two private prison operators: Geo Group in Florida and CoreCivic in Tennessee.

Leadnow’s petition, which garnered 40,000 signatures by Thursday, states that these operators “are executing Trump’s cruel and inhumane anti-immigration agenda.”

According to The Guardian, CPPIB manages $368 billion in pension funds on behalf of roughly 20 million Canadian retirees and holds $8 million of stock in both corporations combined.

Between August 2017 and 2018, the CPPIB grew its investment in Geo Group by nearly 13 times to 153,500 shares worth $5.5 million.

“We went into that meeting with a very clear objective,” Pullman told StarMetro. “We wanted to get a commitment from the CPPIB that it was committed to divesting out of these two companies … We definitely heard that there are internal conversations happening within the CPP right now about how to deal with this situation.”

In a statement released by CPPIB on Thursday, it said that out of the biannual public meetings across Canada so far, two participants raised concerns over investments in the two prison operators.

It said that the investment in the two companies was automatic, selected by a computer-generated algorithm to help produce a balanced portfolio, and maintains that “CPPIB’s asset mix includes a healthy appetite for real estate within a diversified asset mix in the overall portfolio.”

Michel Leduc, senior managing director, said “CPPIB is taking a close look at these particular stocks within the parameters of its existing investment processes, including … factors such as human rights,” according to the statement.

Christie Stephenson, executive director at the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics at UBC, said CPPIB has an “obligation” to consider the values of their beneficiaries and the public that’s “crucial to safeguarding the portfolios.”

“Anyone managing money as a fiduciary needs to be thinking about where beneficiaries’ and even the public’s values are and where they’re headed. We’re seeing time and time again when social injustice is translating into company and portfolio risk,” she told StarMetro.

In a joint statement released Thursday by Leadnow and SumOfUs, they claim that the prison operators “enforce the detention and separation of immigrant children and families.”

Both CoreCivic and Geo Group have stated publicly this year that they do not run facilities that manage children separated from their parents — a controversial outcome of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy announced in April, which led to the separation of nearly 3,000 children from their parents.

Under the new policy, adults are criminally prosecuted for crossing the border illegally and sent to federal prisons, thus forcibly leaving their children under the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In a statement published on its website June 20, CoreCivic said it “does not know the circumstances of individuals when they are placed in a facility.”

“We also do not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release.”

In August, Johnny Choate, facility administrator at Geo Group, also publicly stated in an op-ed that it doesn’t manage facilities that “house unaccompanied minors or provide transportation or any other services for the purpose of separating minors from their parents.

“Additionally, our facilities are subject to unannounced audits by both federal agencies and independent, third-party organizations; there is dedicated ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) staff on-site at all times, and public records requests can be made directly to the government agency for whom we contract.”

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