Do you know where your pension fund money is being invested?

February 7, 2017

For years, Canadians have been taking advantage of the month of February to review their investments before tax season starts. But have you ever wondered if you have “responsible” investments? Where does the money from your savings go?

In order to ensure that retirement pensions are paid out, managers of pension funds in which we daily invest part of our money are constantly looking out for new investments. In recent years, they have shown a growing interest in purchasing farmland, a profitable investment that enables them to speculate on rising land value, by reselling it for a profit.

While industrial agriculture for export poses a threat to locally produced food, food sovereignty and the rights of rural communities, the use of farmland for financial speculation poses an even greater threat. In that context, monetizing farmland and converting small-farms into industrial agricultural operations becomes inexcusable. Indeed, using land for food production is becoming increasingly difficult, or perhaps even impossible; very often, even though the land ceases to produce crops, it becomes more and more expensive.

Moreover, it is common in many countries to see rich and powerful investors acquire land in a dubious and, unfortunately, violent manner. Peasants are expelled from their land without warning, their plots of land are ripped away from them and sold to other, more powerful people. Quite often, these small farmers are visited by armed militias who use threats to make them sell their land to rich land grabbers.These stories may seem unbelievable, but they are true and supported by credible witnesses and research.

Is that really where we want to invest our pension contributions? What price are we willing to pay to make a profit?

Since November 2015, a coalition of Canadian, American, German and Swedish groups has teamed up with Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos, a Brazilian human rights organization, to conduct an in-depth analysis of land acquisition. The report, “Foreign Pension Funds and Land Grabbing in Brazil” , draws a disturbing portrait of practices carried out by the American-based TIAA-CREF investment fund, which created the global farmland fund called TCGA (TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC) to purchase land all over the world, but especially in Brazil. According to the report, its agricultural investments are responsible for forced displacements and have had significant negative environmental and social impacts. The report shows that farmland in Brazil is acquired through a Brazilian businessman accused of using violence and fraud to expel small farmers. These pension funds also use complex company structures that evade Brazilian laws restricting foreign investment in farmland.

Through their investments in the global farmland acquisition fund called TIAA-CREF Global Agriculture LLC (TCGA), the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC), are involved in land speculation in Brazil, using complex company structures to buy land.

We invite you to take a few minutes to watch this short video dealing with how certain pension funds are participating in illegal land grabbing.

In Canada, Development and Peace and 14 other Canadian organizations are asking the CDPQ and bcIMC to be transparent and to:

  • refrain from future investment in TIAA-CREF's international farmland acquisition fund andto suspend all other speculative investment in farmland;
  • demand that TIAA-CREF publicly disclose the nature, extent and specific location of its investments, whether direct or indirect, in farmland;
  • circulate this letter among their members to inform them of the situation.

Now is the time to act

We invite Canadians with funds invested with the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and the British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (bcIMC) to join their voices to ours and write a letter to CDPQ and bcIMC, asking them for clarification and to refrain from investing in TIAA-CREF's international farmland acquisition fund.

You can download a model letter here - CDPQ (Québec)

You can download a model letter here - bcIMC (Colombie-Britannique)

Once you have signed the letter and sent it in, please send us an email to keep us up to date about your efforts.

Similar campaigns are taking place in Sweden, Germany and the United States, where other pension funds have shares in the same global farmland fund. Together, we can stop the illicit activities of TIAA-CREF, protect family farmers around the world, and ensure that their agricultural lands continue to be used to nourish and sustain their communities.