April 21, 2017

For Immediate Release: April 20, 2017

NEW YORK, NY – On Thursday a coalition of environmental, human rights and family farm organizations delivered a letter with more than 100,000 signatures to pension fund management company TIAA, expressing concerns over the company’s investments in farmland and palm oil.

The organizations are demanding that TIAA disclose the locations of its farms and its investments in destructive palm oil companies, and that these investments be stopped.

TIAA is one of the largest global investors in farmland, with more than 1.5 million acres in the United States and around the world worth $8 billion under its management. The company’s land holdings have been linked to land grabbed from local farmers in Northeast Brazil. According to Brazilian researchers[1], land was bought by TIAA through its subsidiaries from a businessman regarded as one of the worst land grabbers in the region.

“TIAA is the largest investor in farmland here in the United States and around the world, but it’s buying land from a company that has snatched it from local farmers using violence and intimidation,” said Doug Hertzler from ActionAid USA. “TIAA claims to be a socially responsible company, but the way it invests its customers’ money tells a different story. We’re here today to tell TIAA to open its books and show its customers where their money is really invested.”

“By creating a large fund to operate in land markets, TIAA drives speculation and human rights violations,” said Maria Luisa Mendonca of Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos. “In Brazil, TIAA is promoting the expansion of mono-cropping of commodities, causing environmental destruction, loss of biodiversity, contamination of water sources and displacement of rural communities in the Cerrado (Brazilian savanna).”

Beyond its direct land investments, TIAA has at least $170 million invested in palm oil companies known for razing tropical forests and displacing local communities across the tropics. Large consumer brands and palm oil traders have begun to recognize and address the environmental devastation wrought by palm oil, but institutional investors, like TIAA, have yet to deal with the problem.

“TIAA’s links to tropical deforestation and rights abuses are undeniable,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “TIAA’s investments support palm oil companies that raze forests and drive species to extinction. It is time for TIAA to reveal and reduce their ties to this destruction and truly practice social responsibility.”

TIAA is also one of the largest pension funds purchasing farmland in the United States, currently managing more than 230,000 acres worth more than $4 billion – a number that continues to increase. Since more than half of U.S. farmers are expected to retire in the next 15 years, pension funds speculating on the value of farmland could mean the end of family farming in this country as we know it.

Andrianna Natsoulas, Executive Director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of NY, a National Family Farm Coalition member, stated, “Family farmers face so many obstacles in a system that favors industrial food production. These grabs result in increased land prices, compounding the difficulties of transferring or selling their land. It is infuriating that TIAA is forcing people to compromise the future of farms and our food supply in order to have a secure retirement.”

More than 14,000 TIAA clients signed the petition that was delivered today, including faculty from 150 universities. Activists carried out a stunt in front of TIAA’s New York City office today with a bulldozer representing the damage done to people and the environment by TIAA’s harmful investments. Throughout the week, TIAA clients have delivered petitions to local TIAA offices in several cities across the country.

Nancy Romer, a PSC-CUNY union faculty member and TIAA client, spoke out at today’s event: “I want my retirement money to be invested ethically, not in companies that exploit resources and abuse communities. I have a right to decide where my retirement investments go, and that cannot happen until TIAA and other investment firms stop concealing the destruction they are financing.”

The coalition, which includes Friends of the Earth, Sum of Us, Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos, National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, ActionAid USA, and many other organizations, is working to inform TIAA’s clients on how their retirement funds are being invested and to demand greater transparency from the financial services sector on ways that land investments are made.


Note to editors:

[1] Foreign Pension Funds and Land Grabbing in Brazil report by Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos: https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5336-foreign-pension-funds-and-land-grabbing-in-brazil.