Its long acronym, TIAA-CREF, stands for what sounds like a lofty purpose: Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund. Based in New York with origins dating back to the time of Andrew Carnegie, the 97-year-old company boasts that it is the United States’ largest retirement fund manager for professionals who work in the education, research, medical and cultural fields. And this is a “different” organization, according to TIAA-CREF, as it has worked on corporate social responsibility issues for over 40 years, has been named as one of the world’s most ethical companies and takes a “client-conscious approach” towards building revenue.
But this financial services firm, which manages over half a trillion dollars in pension funds, is known far differently in South America as for what some say has amounted to a massive “land grab” in Brazil. According to Grain, a small NGO that supports small farmers and social equality movements, TIAA-CREF has had a central role in a scheme that has acquired vast amounts of farmland across Brazil—even though the country has strict laws covering foreign investments in farmland.