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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 (TNT).

"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 8.

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 Darfurian civilians."

"These companies know that they are fueling a genocidal regime, but have done nothing to pressure this regime," Mr. Elberger told SocialFunds.com.

In early 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 Blagojevich applauded 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 (TOT), and 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.

 

 
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