US grocer Safeway has defended its business strategy after the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) said it plans to withhold its votes for Safeway’s chief executive and two directors running for re-election.

Calpers, which is the 31st largest shareholder of Safeway, said it would withhold the votes for CEO Steven Burd and directors Robert MacDonnell and William Tauscher because of “shareholder losses of $20bn, conflicts of interest and lack of responsiveness to shareholders” by the company.

“We support the efforts of the coalition of other pension funds who are like minded and who are working together to encourage investors to withhold votes,” said Rob Feckner, investment committee chairman. “We have come to the same conclusion – that it is time for shareholders to deliver a strong message that Safeway needs new leadership.”

In response to the announcement, Safeway said it was committed to the highest standards of corporate governance and has an ongoing process to listen to shareholders.

“Safeway is in the midst of executing a well-defined strategy to differentiate itself from the competition and grow the business for shareholders, employees and customers. The company has acted decisively in times of challenge, aggressively reinvests in its stores, and has a sound vision for the future, which is fully supported by Safeway’s board of directors,” the retailer said.