Protesters paid a visit to TIAAs New York headquarters
Thursday, urging the firm to stop investing in farmland and
companies with ties to palm oil.
ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, Sum of Us, Grassroots
International and the National Family Farm Coalition were among
activist groups that staged the protest to deliver their
petitions to the fund manager. They object to two major TIAA
investments: the $170 million they say has been invested in
palm oil companies, and the $8 billion it has put to work in
farmland in the U.S., Brazil and Australia. A TIAA spokesperson
said its palm oil investment is less than $170 million and the
majority stems from investments in index funds.
Several TIAA employees were on the sidewalk, watching as
nearly forty protesters waved signs bearing phrases like
Stop Grabbing Land and Respect Farmers.
The protesters engaged in a few cheers, shouting slogans like:
TIAA lead the way! Deforestation stops today!
ActionAids senior policy analyst Doug Hertzler, says TIAA is one of the
worlds largest buyers of farmland, driving speculation
that takes land from locals. TIAA came under fire about a year
ago after a nonprofit called Grain alleged its investments in
Brazilian farmland were not socially responsible. The fund
manager stood behind its investments and has since used
its yearly Responsible Farmland Investment Report to
share information on its investment criteria.
There are plenty of other ways to make money,
said Hertzler, whose pension is tied to investments made by
TIAA. They can generate good returns even without
investing in land.
Hertzler said in an interview at the protest that he did not
do the math on how TIAA could make up for the losses that might
result from divesting its farmland assets. The fund manager,
meanwhile, continues to defend its holdings.
Our investment teams incorporate responsible investing
principles across our portfolios, and as a signatory to the
U.N. Principles of Responsible Investment in Farmland, we are
committed to promoting sustainability, preventing deforestation
and protecting the rights of landowners and local
workers, the TIAA spokesperson said by phone
Jeff Conant, a representative of Friends of The Earth, said
TIAA posits itself as a socially responsible investment firm
and should stop investing in palm oil, which the environmental
group says fuels rainforest destruction and exploit
The TIAA spokesperson said the company has no
direct investments in the crop in its privately held farmland
and timber portfolios. In our public funds, the
significant majority of the investments related to palm oil are
held in funds that automatically track specific indexes,
the spokesperson said.
Conant said at the protest that TIAA should pressure
the people who create indexes to stop including
companies that have ties to palm oil products. We believe
that as a company that presents itself as socially responsible,
there is more they can do, Conant said.
Hertzler agreed. He added that he expects TIAA will work
with the groups, and eventually will disclose what land it
acquires, where that land was purchased and whether that land
acquisition caused any sort of displacement for locals.