New York: protesters seek clarity from TIAA
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An article posted by Friends of the Earth last week explains how FOE and a coalition of environmental, human rights and family farm organizations recently delivered a letter with over 100,000 signatures to pension fund management company TIAA expressing concerns about the consequences of the company’s investments in farmland and palm oil. The organizations are demanding that TIAA discloses the locations of its farms and its investments in destructive palm oil companies and that these investments are stopped.
Doug Hertzler from ActionAid USA says that TIAA is the largest investor in farmland 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. Andrianna Natsoulas, a National Family Farm Coalition member, points out that these grabs result in increased land prices, compounding the difficulties of transferring or selling land. She finds it infuriating that TIAA is forcing people to compromise the future of farms and the food supply in order to have a secure retirement.
TIAA is one of the largest pension funds in the United States, where it currently manages over 230,000 acres of farmland worth over $4 billion. 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.
As one of the biggest investors in farmland, TIAA's total investment in the US and worldwide is worth $8 billion. The company’s land holdings have been linked to land grabbed from local farmers in North-east Brazil. According to Brazilian researchers, land was bought by TIAA through its subsidiaries from a businessman regarded as one of the worst land grabbers in the region. By creating a large fund to operate in land markets, TIAA is accused of speculation and human rights violations. 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 Brazilian savanna.
In addition to its direct investment in land, TIAA has at least $170 million invested in palm oil companies known for razing tropical forests, displacing local communities and driving species to extinction across the tropics. For Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Campaigner with Friends of the Earth, TIAA’s links to tropical deforestation and rights abuses are undeniable and in his opinion it is time for TIAA to reveal and reduce their ties to this destruction and practice social responsibility. 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 still not reacted to the problem.
In the view of the protesters, although TIAA claims to be a socially responsible company, the way it invests its customers’ money tells a different story. They want TIAA to show its customers where their money is really being invested. Activists carried out a stunt in front of TIAA’s New York City office with a bulldozer representing the damage done to people and the environment by TIAA’s harmful investments.
Throughout the week, TIAA clients – more than 14,000 signed the letter - have delivered petitions to local TIAA offices in several cities across the country. They want their money invested ethically and not in companies that abuse and exploit. They cannot decide where retirement investments go until TIAA and other investment firms stop concealing the destruction they are financing. The coalition, which includes Friends of the Earth 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 the ways investments in land are made.