Dutch pension funds abandon victims of land grabbing

25 February 2021

The 10 largest pension funds in the Netherlands invest EUR 8.2 billion in 46 companies involved in serious violations of land rights, according to new findings from the Netherlands Fair Pension Guide. The largest investors are ABP, PFZW and PMT. None of the pension funds adequately address the land grabbing violations of the companies in which they invest, or have structurally committed to compensating victims of land grabbing.

The ten pension funds investigated in the report are: ABP, PfZW, PMT, Pensioenfonds Detailhandel, StiPP, Bpf Bouw, PME, Pensioenfonds Vervoer, Pensioenfonds Horeca en Catering, BPL Pensioen. Of these, only Pensioenfonds Detailhandel shows some commitment to victims of land grabbing: The fund is engaged in human rights discussions with half of the companies involved in land grabbing, in which it invests.

“Pension funds invest billions in mining, agricultural, and oil companies that are guilty of land grabbing. They hardly, if at all, stand up for the rights of the victims of these landgrabs. Pension funds must set clear requirements for the companies in which they invest that are involved in land grabbing, in order to tackle violations of land rights.” says Peter Ras, spokesperson for the Fair Pension Guide, “The Fair Pension Guide calls on the Dutch government to put pressure on pension funds to actively apply international guidelines such as those of the UN and the OECD. Pension funds must help eradicate land grabbing by companies in which they invest, or otherwise exclude these companies.” 

Land grabs and killings

Land rights violations are a global problem, as land that communities traditionally depend on for their livelihoods is often insufficiently legally protected, especially in developing countries. 

Up to 2.5 billion people depend on indigenous and community lands, land to fulfil their livelihoods, which make up over 50% of the land on the planet; however, they legally own just one-fifth. The remaining five billion hectares remain unprotected, and companies take advantage of this, taking over land for large scale palm oil plantations, mining, oil extraction and other business interests.

93% of land concessions in agriculture, mining, forestry/logging or oil and gas are inhabited — based on an analysis of 73,000 concessions in eight countries. Today, the call to respect Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) comes from increasingly unified indigenous, human rights, women’s rights and climate movements working on a diverse array of campaigns.

Local communities in countries such as Brazil, Colombia, DRC, India, Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Vietnam are victims of land grabbing by the companies in which these ten Dutch pension funds invest. In many cases, resistance is brutally suppressed. Killing of land rights defenders is a huge and growing problem. 2019 showed the highest number of murdered land and environmental defenders in a single year. As many as 212 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week. Largescale agriculture, mining and logging are still driving the majority of attacks against environmental defenders across the world.

The following are just some of the land rights violations committed by companies in which these ten Dutch pension funds invest:

● French oil company Total: in 2018, local communities in Uganda, opposed to a new oil pipeline, were displaced from their land and unfairly compensated;
● Australian Rio Tinto: in 2020, the world’s largest iron ore miner blasted two 46,000 year old caves sacred to the local Aboriginal community as part of a mine expansion;
● Brazilian iron producer Vale displaced at least 200 families to develop the S11D iron ore mine, located in Brazil. In 2019, a tailings dam at an iron ore mine failed; the dam collapsed, killing 231 people. This happened just three years after another mine disaster, at a mine co-owned by Vale. When this dam collapsed, it destroyed a village in Brazil, resulting in the loss of 19 lives and hundreds displaced. Vale was also involved in community rights violations related to coal in Mozambique, where Vale's operations in the area displaced some 1,360 families.

Read about other land rights violations in the report.

Time for meaningful action

Six pension funds - ABP, Bpf Bouw, Pensioenfonds Detailhandel, PFZW, PME and PMT - do not add any company to their public exclusion lists as a result of human rights violations. Only three out of ten pension funds - BPL, PfZW and PMT - place demands on companies, in their publicly available policies, to prevent conflicts with indigenous peoples regarding land rights.

Six pension funds - ABP, Bpf Bouw, BPL, Retail, PfZW, Horeca and Catering - are engaged in a critical dialogue with one or more of the companies named in the report, because of their involvement in land rights violations. However, with the exception of pension fund Retail, they do this with only a small number of these companies.

Only five pension funds include access to redress for victims of land rights violations in dialogue with companies, and often it is very limited. Hardly any pension fund monitors whether the situation for victims of land rights violations by companies in which they invest is improving.

Read the full report in English.

Dutch consumers can compare the scores of the pension funds on their investment policies and practices at www.eerlijkepensioenwijzer.nl, and take action by sending a complaint or compliment to their pension fund.

For more information, please contact:

Peter Ras, Fair Finance Guide Netherlands: peter.ras@oxfamnovib.nl