June 01, 2005
Students and States Seek to End Genocide in Sudan Through Divestment Campaigns
by William Baue
Students urge Stanford University to follow in the footsteps of Harvard University by divesting,
and urge California senators to pass legislation like Illinois did.
"I found a man groaning under a tree. He had been shot in the neck and jaw and left for dead in a
pile of corpses," wrote Johann Hari in a November 2004 article entitled "How Some of
the World's Biggest Corporations are Fuelling the Genocide in Darfur." "And under the tree next to
that was a woman whose husband had been killed, along with her seven- and four-year old sons,
before she was gang-raped and mutilated."
Such testimonials prove convincing in
campaigns to divest from companies doing business that supports the genocide of black Sudanese
carried out by the Islamic Janjaweed (which means "devils on horses") with the help of the Sudanese
government. This quotation leads a report submitted by Students
Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) asking the Stanford University Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility
(APIR) to review investment in four companies.
The panel, which is charged with gauging
the university community's opinions on social and environmental issues as they pertain to
investment, voted last week to recommend divestment from ABB (ticker: ABB), PetroChina (PTR), Sinopec (SNP), and Tatneft
"The panel's role is totally advisory--it's the eyes and ears of the campus--but the locus of
the decision resides with the Board of Directors Subcommittee on Investment Responsibility, which
makes its own recommendation to the full Board," APIR Chair and Finance Professor George Parker
told SocialFunds.com. The Board is expected to address this recommendation when it meets on June
STAND confirmed that Stanford's $12 billion endowment holds at least $1 million in
PetroChina, a subsidiary of the Chinese National Petroleum Company (CPNC) that is owned by the
People's Republic of China. The STAND report cites Human Rights Watch research that China and Sudan engage in "guns for
oil" exchanges that fuel the genocide, as Sudanese military typically bomb villages before
Janjaweed militia on the ground rape and murder surviving villagers.
"According to Sudan's
former Transportation Minister Lam Akol, 80 percent of these oil revenues are used to buy weapons,"
said Ben Elberger, a Stanford junior majoring in public policy who co-authored the report with Seth
Silverman, a Stanford freshman. "These weapons have, in turn, been documented as being used against
"These companies know that they are fueling a genocidal regime, but
have done nothing to pressure this regime," Mr. Elberger told SocialFunds.com.
April, Harvard University divested its 67,200
shares (worth $4.4 million of its $23 billion endowment) of PetroChina on the New York Stock
Exchange (NYSE), though the university may hold
more on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (SEHK).
"Harvard's decision, which followed months of patient student activism, got the divestment
ball rolling, and offers an inspiring example of the role that universities can play in the fight
against terrorism," said Cassidy DeLine, a Stanford freshman and STAND's public relations director.
"However, even Harvard's actions are incomplete: PetroChina is just one corporation that is
profiting from and promulgating genocide in Darfur."
Just yesterday, Illinois Governor Rod
the General Assembly for passing Senate Bill 23 to make it the first state to prohibit investing in foreign
companies doing business with Sudan.
"Illinois's decision to divest proves the role that
states can play in stopping genocide," Ms. DeLine told SocialFunds.com. "It shows an alternative
to passive inertia, and helps to build momentum--both Harvard and Illinois's decisions are
commendable and hopfully will be echoed across the country."
STAND members spent yesterday
lobbying all 40 California senators to support Assembly Concurrent Resolution #11. ACR11 urges the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) to encourage their portfolio companies
doing business in Sudan "to act responsibly and not take actions that promote or otherwise enable
human rights violations in the Sudan." At its May 16 meeting, the CalPERS board found no reason to
oppose the resolution and
issued a neutral recommendation on it. On May 18, the resolution received a supporting vote of 64 to 7 on the Assembly Floor, sending it to the Senate.
As with the report
to Stanford's APIR, which narrowed its focus on four specific foreign companies and documented
their connections to the genocide, STAND members focused their advocacy with California Senators on
a limited number of companies as well. In addition to the abovementioned four, STAND has
identified three other companies with links to the Sudanese government: Lundin Petroleum (LNDNF.PK), Total SA
Marathon Oil (MRO).
"In many cases, we
got the sense that California senators wanted to take a stand, but didn't really know what to do at
the state level," said Ms. DeLine. "Instead of pushing for broad divestment, we targeted specific
companies that we have found directly bankroll the military and weaponry, making divestment more
feasible and efficient."
CalPERS has surveyed the 1,800 portfolio companies in its $186
billion pension fund and found only a handful with indirect investments in Sudan, according to a
Reuters report. STAND is recommending that the state and its pension funds go further than ACR11
by actually divesting from companies operating in Sudan that do not cease propping up a regime that
assists in the genocide of its own people.
"With the biggest public pension fund in the
nation, California has significant political legs, and hence responsibility," added Ms. DeLine.
However, since both ACR11 and the APIR's recommendation are non-binding, it remains to be
seen whether CalPERS and Stanford ultimately divest from the companies in question, and whether
divestment can help effect the end of genocide in Sudan.