THE HARVARD CORPORATION must be condemned for the socially irresponsible vote it will cast today on a shareholder resolution at the annual stockholders meeting of the General Electric Corporation. Harvard will vote to abstain on a resolution calling on General Electric--one of the most socially retrograde U.S. corporations in South Africa--to withdraw its operations from that country. While all U.S. investment in South Africa is undesirable, insofar as it serves as an economic prop for the morally abhorrent apartheid regime and continues a U.S. foreign policy in South Africa committed to American business rather than to the basic rights of a severely oppressed people, the case for G.E.'s withdrawal from South Africa is particularly strong.
Until 1975, G.E.--a corporation in which Harvard owns $15 million of stock--employed only 10 blacks in salaried positions out of a total of nearly 1600 G.E. workers in South Africa. The multinational corporation has made no real attempt to force the issue of apartheid regulation with the white minority government, as some other U.S. corporations have done. Essentially, G.E. plants maintain fully-segregated facilities and Africans may not supervise white employees in any area of the company.
In terms of marketing policy, G.E. has for some time supplied much of the high-technology machinery bought by the South African government, including 80 per cent of the diesel train engines so vital to the maintenance of the white minority's military and security. In 1976, despite opposition from Congress, G.E. tried to sell nuclear reactors to the South African government. In addition, G.E. has continually refused to disclose the details of the company's sales and manufacturing operations in South Africa.
In light of this evidence, Harvard Treasurer George Putnam's contention that Harvard abstained on the shareholder resolution because it believes G.E. is a "responsible investor" in South Africa is ludicrous.
And while the decision of the University's Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility to recommend that Harvard support the withdrawal deserves praise, it is unfortunate that the ACSR has not developed real leverage with the Corporation, which makes the final decision. Had the ACSR made the reasons for its recommendation easily available to its constituency within the Harvard community--rather than continuing its policy of withholding official statements explaining the recommendations it gives the Corporation from the community until weeks after the Corporation votes on shareholder resolutions--the committee might have had enough support behind it to persuade the Corporation to vote in favor of the G.E. resolution. In addition, the ACSR gives exact vote tallies on its recommendations to the Corporation members, but not to the community it presumably represents. Socially responsible recommendations by the ACSR, while laudable, remain only minimally effective so long as the advisory committee chooses to operate in a vacuum; unless the ACSR makes some effort to involve the Harvard community in its recommendations, the Corporation will continue to ignore its advice.