Nearly 300 clients of the $1.2 trillion retirement giant TIAA filed a formal complaint today with the UN-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) initiative, alleging TIAA’s substantial investments in fossil fuels and deforestation violate TIAA’s climate pledges and commitment to the six Principles for Responsible Investment.
TIAA participants, including the academics Bill McKibben, Michael Mann, Dipesh Chakrabaty, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Judith Butler, are filing the complaint to highlight TIAA’s investments in the drivers of climate change, including at least $78 billion in fossil fuels, $9.1 billion of which are coal industry bonds. Such investments escalate the climate emergency while violating the commitments TIAA made to PRI through its subsidiary and asset manager, Nuveen. TIAA also invests heavily in timber and industrial agriculture linked to deforestation and illegality. Deforestation is second to fossil fuels as a driver of climate change. The complainants call on the PRI to investigate and address TIAA’s “irresponsible investments and systematic greenwashing practices.”
“Most of the people that this giant fund serves are teachers, members of a profession that takes intellectual honesty — and the future — seriously. Time for TIAA to do the same.”
– Bill McKibben, author, climate expert, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, and TIAA client
The complainants argue that TIAA’s refusal to consider fossil fuel divestment violates its fiduciary duty because burning fossil fuels ignores the interests of its clients and harms their long-term financial well-being.
TIAA is one of the world’s largest holders of bonds across the coal value chain — ranking 4th globally — including holding over $91 million in bonds of the conglomerate Adani that owns the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Australia. TIAA/Nuveen also invests in fossil fuel companies, including Chevron, Exxon, Enbridge, TotalEnergies (building the contested East African Crude Oil Pipeline).
“When TIAA invests teachers’ money in catastrophic fossil fuels and land grabs, they fundamentally undermine the work we do to prepare students for rich, fulfilling lives,”
– Caroline Levine, Cornell University professor and TIAA-Divest! team member
“We, as Wangan and Jagalingou Cultural Custodians, condemn TIAA for investing in Adani while Adani builds its Carmichael coal mine on our ancestral lands without our consent. TIAA’s funding of Adani makes it complicit in Adani’s ongoing violation of our human rights.”
– Coedie McAvoy, Wangan and Jagalingou Cultural Custodian
The complainants, with the support of TIAA-Divest!, call on TIAA to establish a moratorium on new fossil fuel investments, including both shares and bonds; to divest its existing fossil fuel investments by 2025 in line with a 1.5°C pathway; and to stop land grabs leading to deforestation and human rights harms, in order to make good on the specific commitments it has made as a PRI signatory.
If TIAA/Nuveen refuses to come into compliance, the complainants are asking PRI to expel Nuveen from the PRI initiative.
- The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) is the preeminent gathering of responsible investors, with over 5,000 signatories (as of October 9, 2022). It is responsible for $150 trillion in assets under management (as of 2021). TIAA, through its asset manager Nuveen, is a signatory of the PRI.
- TIAA provides benefits for over 5 million active and retired employees at nearly 15,000 higher education, research, medical, cultural, and nonprofit institutions. To date, over 1,550 institutions representing more than $40 trillion in assets have committed to some level of fossil fuel divestment.
- Coedie is a Wangan and Jagalingou man who has been maintaining a presence on Adani’s mining lease for over 400 days. He and his family have been conducting an ongoing cultural ceremony a short distance from Adani’s mine site called Waddananngu (the talking) in defiance of Adani’s occupation of their homelands and in defense of their land, water, and culture.