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Dive Brief:

  • The Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations-sponsored group, has dismissed a complaint from hundreds of academics, teachers and scientists regarding the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association’s connections to the fossil fuel industry.
  • PRI told complainants that allegations they made about TIAA’s investments in coal and other fossil fuel sectors do not constitute a breach of policy. The retirement giant has a subsidiary that is a PRI signatory, which means it is required to incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into investment analysis and decision-making.
  • Nearly 800 people who have accounts with TIAA, which serves nonprofit and education workers, have signed on to the complaint.

Dive Insight:

Caroline Levine, a humanities professor at Cornell University and an organizer with TIAA-Divest, said she is disappointed in PRI’s response, which she said undermines the investor network’s credibility as an organ of responsible investing in the face of climate change. 

“As a professor, I spend a lot of my time dedicating my life to trying to prepare my students for a wonderful future,” she said. “We want to make sure that our hard-earned money — money earned teaching — is not being spent to ruin the lives of our students.”

About 300 account holders had signed on to the complaint when it was initially submitted, but numbers grew as more academics and teachers learned of the effort, Levine said. 

“Even the very act of filing it publicly and having nearly now 800 signatories on it, including some very prominent scholars and writers and doctors, means that TIAA can’t just keep doing what it’s been doing,” Levine said. “We plan to keep the pressure on. This is not a blip. This is the building of a movement.”

PRI did not give complainants a specific reason for the dismissal in an email reviewed by Higher Ed Dive. But it said that the organization aims to “update its activities to reflect changes in responsible investment practices and expectations.”

A spokesperson for TIAA said the association cooperated with PRI throughout the review process. 

“Based on the UN PRI’s decision we believe our responses and the supplemental materials we provided demonstrate our commitment to responsible investing, the thoughtful approach we take to incorporating ESG considerations into our investment processes and our dedication to transparency and engagement with the companies we invest in on behalf of our clients,” the spokesperson said via email.