I was recently heartened to learn that the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association -- College Retirement Equities Fund (referred to more briefly as TIAA-CREF) is taking action in regard to investments that support genocide in Darfur.

Some big oil companies, you see, are doing business with the Sudanese government, and in the course of buying oil, are providing the money that funds much of the violence. So TIAA-CREF has now joined a bunch of mutual funds and other big investors to  demand changes. It's a big deal, because TIAA-CREF manages some $400 billion in assets. It's giving the companies in its portfolios with ties to Sudan until the end of the year to make progress in addressing humanitarian needs and reducing the genocide. PetroChina (NYSE:PTR) is a main target of many antigenocide groups.

Activism in action
As an Armenian-American, I'm no stranger to the concept of genocide. So I find the ongoing campaign against complicit companies exciting to watch as it gains traction. The Investors Against Genocide and Sudan Divestment Task Force websites offer a lot of information, as well as a way to lobby your fund companies to participate. Already, Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) has completely divested, as has Allianz. Fund companies such as T. Rowe Price are now screening for companies whose business dealings support the genocide.

The bottom line is that progress is being made.

Take action, yourself
Still, it's only a small step. There are plenty of other issues that ordinary investors feel strongly about, but the key is to join with bigger investors. After all, many big companies are majority-owned by institutional investors, like pension funds and mutual fund companies. Here are some examples:

Company

CAPS Rating (out of five)

% Owned by Institutions

Accenture (NYSE:ACN)

*****

79%

Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL)

*****

73%

Corning (NYSE:GLW)

*****

78%

Johnson & Johnson

*****

60%

Western Union (NYSE:WU)

*****

93%

PepsiCo

*****

68%

Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM)

*****

74%

Data: Motley Fool CAPS.

With a little online exploration, you can learn much more about issues that matter to you. Doing our little part can be valuable, especially when we influence the bigger players.

You have the power to influence companies and fund managers, and even to make shareholder proposals at companies in which you're invested. You can also vote with your dollars. Bottom line: Don't think that just because you only own a few shares of a fund or company that your opinions don't matter -- they do. 

Learn more here:

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, Berkshire Hathaway, and PepsiCo. Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. Accenture, Berkshire Hathaway, and Western Union are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Berkshire Hathaway and Western Union are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.