Toronto-Dominion Bank is the latest lender to face scrutiny for its involvement in publicly traded U.S. prisons after several global competitors opted to retreat from such investments.

Canada’s second-largest bank has been targeted by SumOfUs, an advocacy group that has launched a petition campaign calling on Toronto-Dominion to end its relationship with Geo Group Inc. and “the American prison industrial complex.” Toronto-Dominion held 32,274 shares in Geo Group in the first quarter, according to a May 13 regulatory filing. The shares would be valued at US$344,686, based on Thursday’s closing prices.

Toronto-Dominion also held a small stake in CoreCivic Inc. as of March 31, according to filings. In addition to owning prisons, CoreCivic and Geo Group have both run facilities that held people suspected of illegally entering the U.S.

“In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the amazing work by the movement for Black Lives, corporations are being finally held accountable for profiting from mass incarceration of millions of Black people, which makes it all the more surprising that Toronto-Dominion is increasing their investment in a company as notorious as Geo Group,” Angus Wong, campaign manager at SumOfUs, said by phone.

‘Temporary’ Positions

The bank “does not pro-actively invest in these companies today and will not do so in the future,” Toronto-Dominion spokesperson Julie Bellissimo said Thursday in an e-mailed statement. “When providing investor services for third party Index and ETF clients, our dealer may hold temporary hedging positions in these names as they are found in a wide spectrum of U.S. indices. The regulatory filings reflect only this activity.”

“TD does not have any financing relationships with companies that operate private prisons in the U.S.,” she said. “In every country we operate in, we support and respect the protection of human rights and share the values reflected in international proclamations, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Geo Group said the divestment efforts against its company are based on a “false narrative and deliberate lies about our role as a long-standing government services provider.”

‘Baseless Allegations’

“We strongly reject these baseless allegations, which are being advanced by radical activists with a fanatical political agenda fueled by dark money and aimed at impacting decade-long banking relationships,” a Geo Group spokesperson said in a message.

“We’re unaware of a relationship with TD,” a spokesperson for CoreCivic said in an e-mailed statement. “Our goal is to play a leadership role in tackling America’s recidivism crisis, and our community corrections services even help keep individuals from entering the corrections system in the first place.”

Barclays Plc announced last year it would stop providing future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities, joining other major lenders in exiting the industry. The decision mirrored similar moves from Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co. and SunTrust Banks Inc.

As U.S. banks, pension funds and private equity firms face growing pressure to cut ties with companies that profit from private prisons, Nomura Holdings Inc. arranged a fresh financing for CoreCivic last year. The Japanese firm signed on to serve as the administrative agent on the new facility after Bank of America -- which had been the agent on an existing revolver and term loan -- resigned.