Where’s Your Pension Fund Being Invested?

Photo: Rosilene Miliotti/FASE

TIAA is one of the largest private pension funds in the United States. It provides plans for teachers and nurses, but it is funding their retirements through land grabs and human rights violations. TIAA and its subsidiaries are speculating on millions of acres of farmland around the world. In doing so, they’re driving small farmers off their land, expanding industrial biofuel production, and contributing to deforestation.

As one of the world’s largest investors in farmland, and as a pension fund committed to social responsibility, TIAA should stop its investments in land grabs, deforestation, and industrial agriculture and biofuels. Sign our petition below to tell TIAA to get out of forests and farmland!

The New York Times has reported on TIAA’s vast land purchases in Brazil linked to well-known land grabbers who violently expelled small-scale farmers and their families.

And it’s not just happening in Brazil. TIAA owns 250,000 acres of farmland in the U.S. and is trying to buy more. This will drive up land prices and pressure farmers to sell their farms. If TIAA continues to buy farmland, family farming in the U.S. will disappear.

In April 2017 ActionAid USA and its allies delivered 104,481 signatures to TIAA at is headquarters in New York City, N.Y.

Background on TIAA’s investments

TIAA is one of the biggest pension funds in the United States and one of the largest investors in farmland in the world. The company manages at least 1.4 million acres worth over $5 billion. But despite their claims to be “responsible” investors, their speculation in farmland is driving small farmers off their land, expanding industrial biofuel production, and leading to deforestation.

A report by researchers from Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights and the international organization Grain shows that TCGA acquired farmland in the state of Piaui from a Brazilian businessman known to have illegally grabbed hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the area and to have displaced the peasant occupants through intimidation and violence. The forest was cleared to plant industrial cash crops for export, destroying ecologically sensitive areas that are critical to preserving biodiversity and stopping climate change.

According to TIAA’s 2015 report “Responsible Investing in Farmland,” TIAA owns 633,392 acres of farmland in Brazil, and we are extremely concerned that reports of land grabbing and human rights violations in Piaui are not isolated to that state but occur throughout the country. We do not want our retirement to come at the expense of families’ livelihoods.

Additionally, TIAA holds 227,389 acres of farmland in the United States, ranging from berry and grape production in Washington State to rice, corn, soybean, cotton, vegetables and cranberries in the Midwest and the South. TIAA has not disclosed the exact location of any of its farmland, which makes it impossible to prove that TIAA’s land holdings are free from environmental harm or labor exploitation, either in Brazil or the United States. Moreover, the trend of pension funds investing in farmland, which has been led by TIAA, distorts the price of land and exacerbates the already prohibitive cost of lands for most small-scale or beginning farmers across the United States.

TIAA’s investment holdings in destructive palm oil companies means that TIAA supports an industry that is the single fastest growing driver of deforestation and displacement of tropical forest-dwelling indigenous communities. It is also a major driver of climate change and a protagonist of human rights violations. The World Climate Summit (UNCOP21) in Paris has declared the danger of continued carbon emissions and called for a reduction of those emissions – and it is incumbent upon the financial sector to do its part in contributing to this effort.

These are additional reasons for TIAA to disclose specific locations of its land holdings in the United States and internationally, which would ensure transparency and accountability regarding TIAA’s claims as a responsible investor in farmland.  By investing the retirement funds of universities, non-governmental organizations and other public education institutions, whose purpose is to serve the public good, in farmland projects and palm oil companies that are causing environmental and social destruction, TIAA exacerbates inequities and climate destruction while exposing these institutions to reputational and financial risk.

Many universities and public education institutions have been committed historically to the defense of human, civil and labor rights as well as the promotion of social justice at home and abroad. We write to you as concerned citizens who recognize the responsibility that comes with such financial involvement.

Therefore, we call on TIAA and its subsidiaries to take the following steps:

  • Disclose the nature, extent, and location of its investments, directly or through its subsidiaries, in all farmland in Brazil, the United States, Australia and other countries.
  • Refrain from further investment and divest from land acquisitions leading to the displacement of local community members and family farmers, deforestation, and further climate change.
  • Adhere to four pillars of responsible investment in land and forest-risk commodities:
  1. disclose any investments in palm oil producer companies and other forest-risk commodities;
  2. commit to a deforestation and land grab-free investment policy that will functionally dis-incentivize investee companies from engaging in land grabbing and gross deforestation;
  3. exclude any companies that fail to meet this policy and global best practices in protection of human rights; and
  4. repair the damage by supporting companies with credible grievance mechanisms, by investing in projects and companies that serve the public good, and by considering providing land to small-scale family farmers and beginning farmers  who are utilizing sustainable forms of agriculture destined to improve human health and shared economic development.
  • Publicize TIAA’s response to these requests to its members, particularly members in higher education.

* The coalition includes: Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, FIAN International, GRAIN, ActionAid USA, Grassroots International, National Family Farm Coalition, Family Farm Defenders, Presbyterian Hunger Program – PC(USA), MaryKnoll Office of Global Concerns, Friends of the Earth U.S., Union of Concerned Scientists, Faculty/Staff Divestment Network, and others.