Growing Movement Calls on Liberty to Stop Insuring Fossil Fuel Expansion and Respect Indigenous Rights
Boston, MA (April 14, 2021) – Today, climate advocates and Indigenous leaders are incensed that insurance giant Liberty Mutual ended its annual policyholder meeting after just seven minutes, ignoring over 2,700 questions submitted to the company asking how it planned to address its large-scale support for the fossil fuel sector. With Wall Street coming under fire for fueling the climate crisis, the climate movement is turning to big insurance companies like Liberty Mutual as key enablers of the fossil fuel industry. In response to the growing pressure from grassroots activists, Indigenous Peoples, and political leaders, Liberty Mutual did release two new reports timed with its annual meeting today, outlining the company’s approach to sustainability. (Find a detailed analysis of the reports and Liberty’s climate policies here.)
Despite pledging to support a “just transition to a low-carbon economy,” Liberty Mutual did not make any new commitments on fossil fuel underwriting or investing in the reports. The Boston-based insurance company does not rule out insuring new fossil fuel projects or outline any concrete steps and timelines to phase out insuring carbon-intensive energy sectors beyond its existing coal policy. Furthermore, the reports do not mention Indigenous rights or human rights more broadly. As the world’s fifth largest global property and casualty insurer, Liberty Mutual provides the insurance that fossil fuel projects and companies in the U.S. and around the globe need to operate.
“These reports completely ignore the central role Liberty Mutual currently plays in driving both the global climate crisis and ongoing human rights violations,” said Elana Sulakshana, Energy Finance Campaigner at Rainforest Action Network. “An entire movement is rising to demand that Liberty act with the urgency the moment demands by withdrawing its reckless support for further fossil fuel expansion the climate simply cannot afford.”
This morning, company executives did not permit any engagement during the policyholder event itself, which lasted all of seven minutes. In the lead up to the meeting, more than 140,000 people, including at least 10,000 Liberty customers, signed onto a petition calling on the company to stop providing insurance coverage to new fossil fuel infrastructure, specifically coal, tar sands, and Arctic oil and gas projects, and respect human rights. This message was delivered via a billboard truck to the homes of CEO David Long and other executives last week (see photos here).
Last week, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI) network also publicly announced that it is reviewing Liberty Mutual’s membership in the sustainable investing network, following a formal complaint concerning Liberty’s plans to build a massive coal mine in Queensland, Australia.
“It is clearly inappropriate for Liberty Mutual to remain as a signatory to the UNPRI while it continues to pursue the proposed new Baralaba South coal mine project. Liberty’s coal mine would poison drinking water supplies, destroy prime agricultural land, and generate 400 million tonnes of CO2 emissions,” said Paul Stephenson, a member of the Save the Dawson community group in Baralaba, Queensland. “The lack of concrete commitments in the sustainability reports published today – and refusal to address its ownership of Baralaba South – reeks of greenwashing. It is simply not credible for Liberty Mutual to claim it is committed to environmental sustainability and climate action while it continues to pursue the proposed Baralaba South coal mine.”
This afternoon, a coalition of Indigenous and environmental groups are coming together for a digital rally to highlight the demands of frontline communities and policyholders that were not allowed into this year’s annual meeting and call out the inadequacy of today’s commitments.
“The Iñupiat and Gwich’in people directly experience the negative consequences of oil and gas development in the Arctic Slope of Alaska: mold in fish, black bone marrow in caribou, and increased respiratory illnesses and cancer in the village of Nuiqsut, just to name a few. I am Iñupiaq, and I want Liberty Mutual to take meaningful action now and commit to not insuring oil and gas development on the north slope of Alaska,” said Nauri Toler, the Arctic Slope Environmental Justice Organizer for Native Movement and a speaker at today’s digital rally. “It’s insulting that Liberty Mutual executives refuse to speak with the Gwich’in and other Indigenous Peoples who are directly harmed by the development projects they insure.”
Political leaders are also urging Liberty to step up its climate ambition. Last month, a group of Senators wrote to Liberty and other U.S. insurance companies, requesting a response as to how their fossil fuel underwriting and investment policies align with stated sustainability commitments. U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley – the representative for the Boston-area district where Liberty Mutual is headquartered – slammed the company for supporting fossil fuels in October 2020, saying: “The time for studies, internal reviews, and deceitful loopholes is long past. We demand action that is precise, intentional, and meets the scale and scope of this crisis.”
“After decades as a loyal customer, I dropped my coverage with Liberty Mutual because of the company’s refusal to listen to policyholders and put the well-being of their children, and all children, above short-term profits. I’m calling on Liberty policyholders to join me in insisting that the company adopts policies that support Indigenous rights and a healthy planet for generations to come,” said Sarah van Gelder, who this week published a piece titled “Why I Cut Ties With Insurance Giant Liberty Mutual.”
As European and Australian insurers exit the coal sector and take steps to restrict oil and gas business, Liberty Mutual is burying its head in the sand and plowing ahead with business as usual. Globally, 26 insurance companies have ended or limited their coverage for coal projects, representing nearly half the global reinsurance market. Liberty Mutual’s coal policy, which has not been strengthened since 2019, is riddled with loopholes that allow the company to continue insuring new coal projects. Eleven insurers have limited or ended cover for tar sands, but Liberty has not publicly commented on its support for the destructive sector and continues to back massive tar sands pipelines.
“By continuing to underwrite tar sands extraction and pipeline projects with no restrictions, Liberty Mutual is guilty of Indigenous rights violations. Liberty must cut ties with the Trans Mountain pipeline when its policy is up for renewal at the end of this summer,” said Kanahus Manuel, a Secwepemc and Ktunaxa land defender with the Tiny House Warriors and a speaker at the digital rally. “In addition to avoiding the reputational risk of being tied to such a toxic project, it is the smart financial decision as our presence and our assertions of Indigenous jurisdiction and territorial authority to our lands represent huge risks to the financial viability of Trans Mountain.”
Regulators are adding their voice to the movement calling on insurers to respect Indigenous rights. At the end of March, the Washington Insurance Commissioner called on insurance companies operating in the state of Washington to ensure that any project that they underwrite has obtained the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of impacted Indigenous communities.
Liberty’s Climate Crisis is a campaign made up of climate justice, Indigenous rights, and consumer protection organizations that work together to pressure Liberty Mutual to align its business practices with a healthy and habitable planet for all.