The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is one of 12 pension funds being targeted by calls to divest holdings in a KKR fund.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has published a website calling for pension plans to divest from the KKR’s Asian Fund III. The controversy around the fund relates to its partial ownership of the Cue Group, a business with close links to the Chinese government body responsible for surveillance.

Read: BCI, CPPIB and OTPP investments tied to human rights abuses in China, finds watchdog

“Cue talks about itself as an artificial intelligence company,” says Courtney Alexander, a member of the UFCW research department involved in the investigation. “In 2020, it collaborated with a branch of the first research institute of the Ministry of Public Security. They collaborated on Cue’s all-in-one machine, which could take the temperature of people.

“It was a COVID-surveillance machine. It was advertised as tracking people’s identities, tracking where they’d been and who they’d been in contact with. In other publications, Cue discussed using the technology beyond pandemic purposes, including monitoring people at mass gatherings.”

After conducting an investigation into the food sector businesses contained in the fund, the union uncovered the details of Cue’s connections to the Ministry of Public Security. In notes to officials from each public sector pension plan, it shared its evidence and asked for the plans to conduct their own investigations.

Read: Institutional investors making Canada’s approach to China unsustainable

“We got some responses, but not from the Canada Pension Plan [Investment Board],” says Alexander. “At the same time, a reporter who specializes in China from the American perspective investigated the information we’d uncovered. His report was published in late February. We then made the request [to pension plan officials] for pensions to do the right thing and divest. We have not received any confirmation that they have.”

The decision to post the website, which details evidence of the links between Cue and the Chinese government, was made after a month of inaction by the pension plans, according to Alexander, who noted the union’s goal in publishing the information is to prompt a response from plan members.

“Ultimately, the goal is to have publicly funded pension funds divest from Cue.”

The CPPIB, which declined to comment on the story, holds US$350 in the fund and is its second-largest investor. The largest is the Washington State Investment Board, which holds US$500 million. Another 10 U.S.-based public sector plans are also investors in the fund.

Read: Sino-Canadian relations face a slow recovery, but China remains warm to investors: expert