US: Harvard Divests from PetroChina

Publisher Name: 
Associated Press

Harvard
University, after months of pressure from student activists, will sell
an estimated $4.4 million (A€3.42 million) stake in PetroChina, whose
parent company is closely tied to the Sudanese government, university
officials said.

Activists say the move is the first major victory in a
national campaign for divestment from Sudan, whose government has been
accused by the Bush administration of waging a genocidal campaign in
the Darfur region.

It is also a huge step for Harvard, which has been
resistant to pressure to divest, and never fully divested from
companies doing business in apartheid South Africa.

"Divestment is not a step that Harvard takes lightly,
but I believe there is a compelling case for action in these special
circumstances, in light of the terrible situation still unfolding in
Darfur and the leading role played by PetroChina's parent company in
the Sudanese oil industry, which is so important to the Sudanese
regime," Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers said in a statement
Monday.

The divestment decision was made by the governing Harvard Corporation.

The western Sudanese region of Darfur has been the
scene of what the United Nations has called the world's worst
humanitarian crisis. An estimated 180,000 people have died in the
upheaval and about 2 million others have been displaced since the
conflict began in February 2003.

The Darfur conflict began when rebels took up arms
against what they saw as years of state neglect and discrimination
against Sudanese of African origin. The government is accused of
responding with a counterinsurgency campaign in which the Janjaweed, an
Arab militia, committed wide-scale abuses against the African
population.

Filings with federal securities regulators indicate
that in December, the university owned 67,200 shares of PetroChina
worth about $4.4 million (A€3.42 million), according to the Harvard
Crimson student newspaper. The PetroChina investment represents a small
fraction of the university's $23 billion (A€17.85 billion) endowment.

PetroChina, a Beijing-based oil company, is owned by
China National Petroleum Co., which has invested more than $1 billion
(A€780 million) in a joint venture with Sudan to increase that
country's oil revenues, some of which is used to fund the military.

Harvard may also own shares of PetroChina on the Hong
Kong Stock Exchange, but the university is not required to disclose its
Hong Kong holdings publicly.

The divestment from PetroChina should just be the start, student leaders of the divestment campaign said.

"We applaud Harvard living up to its responsibility to
divest in this case, but we are still calling on the Corporation to
disclose and divest from all companies doing business with the Sudanese
government," said senior Matthew W. Mahan, who helped organize a
campaign encouraging seniors to withhold donations to the senior class
gift until Harvard divested.

Manav K. Bhatnagar, who helped launch the campus divestment petition, said he will continue to pressure the administration.

The decision to divest was made by the three-member
Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility. The panel said it
considered Sudan to be a special case and remained reluctant about
linking its investments to political considerations.

"The university maintains a strong presumption against
divesting itself of securities for reasons unrelated to investment
purposes and against using divestment as a political tool or a 'weapon
against injustice,' not because there are not many worthy political
causes or deeply troubling injustices in the world, but because the
university is first and foremost an academic institution," the panel
wrote.

Despite intense pressure, Harvard never fully divested
from apartheid South Africa. The university did, however, sell its
shares in tobacco manufacturers in 1990.

AMP Section Name:Human Rights
  • 107 Energy
  • 124 War & Disaster Profiteering