Dear Members of TIAA’s Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility Committee:
I'm writing because I have serious concerns about TIAA’s involvement in land grabbing, deforestation, and human rights violations through its direct acquisitions of farmland. I ask you to address these concerns now by stopping all acquisition of farmland and returning acquired land in Brazil to impacted communities. These actions will spare TIAA clients from further risk and repair much of the damage caused by TIAA’s farmland deals.
TIAA has direct connections to land grabbing and deforestation through its speculative farmland deals in Brazil. Through its wholly-owned subsidiary TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC (TCGA), TIAA has bought 738,907 acres of land, according to TIAA’s 2018 report “Responsible Investing in Farmland”, in violation of Brazilian law which restricts land ownership by foreign individuals and corporations. Additionally, TCGA bought land in the state of Piaui from notorious land grabber Euclides de Carli, found to have illegally acquired 15 farms totaling 307,000 acres. TIAA is putting clients’ retirement savings at risk, by getting involved with known land grabbers who engage in fraud and speculating with farmland.
Even where TIAA has not bought land from land grabbers, TIAA is still contributing to land grabbing, displacement of local communities, and human rights abuses just by continuing to make farmland deals. In regions of Brazil like the Cerrado, where TIAA owns multiple farms covering hundreds of thousands of acres, land grabs and land conflicts are widespread. TIAA cannot possibly acquire lands there without benefiting from or incentivizing fraud, abuse and corruption.
In September 2017 over 30 international human rights organizations visited Brazil to investigate how speculation with farmland was impacting local communities and the environment. What they found was systemic fraud, environmental destruction and human rights abuses. Local communities described loss of land, threats of violence, and loss and pollution of water sources. The situation is so bad that the Brazilian government is investigating and canceling fraudulent land titles, particularly in the Cerrado.
The Cerrado is one of the world’s most important ecosystems. The agribusiness expansion that TIAA is financing replaces the Cerrado’s rich biodiversity with a plantation model of agriculture that is destroying the region and planet. This model of agriculture relies on chemicals that pollute the water, and farmland in the Cerrado is created through deforestation. TIAA recently announced a “zero deforestation” policy for its Brazilian farmland, which restricts TIAA from buying land deforested beyond certain dates. But this policy will not stop TIAA’s links to deforestation. Satellite data show significant deforestation at TIAA’s farms, and the problem of deforestation is so systemic that no individual corporate policy of this kind can have any effect on reducing it. If TIAA wants its farmland deals to be free of deforestation, then it simply cannot buy farmland in the Cerrado.
With the retirement funds of millions of workers, TIAA is speculating with farmland in the U.S., currently holding at least 251,753 acres in key farming regions. Right now farmers in the U.S. are facing a crisis as they deal with extremely low prices for their crops. TIAA’s farmland deals push up the price of farmland, making it hard for both beginning and established farmers to hold onto or access more land. The increasing acquisition of farmland by absentee financial companies, a trend that TIAA is leading, threatens the long history of family farming and rural livelihoods in this country.
TIAA is also indirectly contributing to land grabbing and deforestation by investing its clients’ funds in palm oil companies. Palm oil companies have engaged in rainforest deforestation and violation of land rights, yet they are still included in the index funds made available to TIAA clients.
I’m concerned that by using the retirement funds of millions of workers to promote these farmland deals and a plantation model of agriculture, TIAA is causing environmental destruction, exacerbating inequities and climate change, and exposing clients’ retirement savings to reputational and financial risk. Pension funds should not be used in the destruction of farming families’ livelihoods and human rights violations.
I join TIAA clients and concerned individuals and organizations to call on TIAA and its subsidiaries to live up to TIAA’s core values by:
- Immediately stopping the purchase of farmland in Brazil, the United States, and globally, and returning lands already acquired to communities in Brazil;
- Meeting the demands of community leadership to repair the damage caused by TIAA’s farmland deals to date, including immediately stopping deforestation and the use of chemical pesticides;
- Publicizing TIAA’s response to all of its clients.
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