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May 2, 2023

Investigative journalism from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)’s ‘Ignoring Warnings Signs, US Retirement Manager TIAA Bought Farms from Alleged Land Grabbers with Brazilian Sugar Giant’ article on May 2, 2023, has provided new and damning evidence of the harms and extent of TIAA’s land grabbing in Brazil and how it has misled its clients, universities, non-profits, and public pension funds.

TIAA has claimed in annual reports since 2012 that its global farmland acquisitions are responsible, sustainable, and beneficial. The company was first exposed for its relationship with a notorious land grabber by the New York Times in 2015. And most recently, an in-depth piece by Bloomberg this month also revealed TIAA’s water-grabbing in California over the past 10-15 years.

This new reporting by OCCRP shows that TIAA’s unethical business deals in Brazil are endemic. TIAA has used retirees’ money to fuel the activity of violent land grabbers and deforesters and shell companies to evade restrictions on foreign land ownership intended to protect Brazil’s rural communities from losing their land. The reporting also shows that TIAA has dodged paying millions of dollars in taxes that are needed for Brazil’s rural development.

Maria Luisa Mendonça, Co-director, Network for Social Justice and Human Rights in Brazil, said: “TIAA created a complex structure of Brazilian subsidiaries to avoid a Brazilian law that limits land ownership by foreign corporations. This is also part of a strategy to avoid responsibility for environmental destruction, displacement of rural communities and human rights violations caused by corporate control over land and the expansion of monocropping plantations in the Brazilian Cerrado.”

Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst for ActionAid USA, said that the consequences of TIAA’s land speculation extend even beyond the legal problems and unethical conduct that has been reported in the recent article:

”TIAA has continually told its clients that by financing large agribusiness they are benefitting food security when we know it’s doing the opposite. TIAA’s land speculation destroys natural resources and causes overproduction that undermines small-scale and family farming in multiple countries. This kind of agriculture creates few jobs and destroys rural livelihoods, causing hunger.”

Hertzler added, “As a participant in a TIAA retirement plan, I think that the Governors and the CEO of TIAA need to launch a process of divestment from all their land and fossil fuel investments that harm communities and the planet. Farms, forests, and grassland need to be returned to the control of local small-scale farmers and communities who live in relationship with the land. Food producers living in local and Indigenous communities provide most of the world’s sustenance. We should support them instead of taking their land.”