Putting ACSR In Its Place
WHEN A Corporation committee two weeks ago rejected the recommendation of its advisory committee and abstained on two moderate shareholder resolutions, it revealed the hypocritical underpinnings of Harvard's "rational case-by-case" approach to investment responsibility.
The resolutions supported by the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) included setting up a review committee to forbid Caterpillar Tractor from selling its products to South African military police--a resolution ACSR turned down last year. The Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR), which lets ACSR do its research for it, abstained on the resolution because it said the situation in South Africa had not changed enough in the past year to warrant a new policy.
In fact, the situation in South Africa has gone from bad to worse. Some expected a new labor law to ameliorate working conditions there, but--as is clear from the little press the South African government lets escape--the law has actually created animosity between the skilled Black workers it has helped and the unskilled ones it has neglected.
The CCSR displayed an equal ignorance about realities in South Africa in its argument not to support an IBM shareholder resolution forbidding computer sales to the South African government. The Corporation claims the resolution would prohibit sales to such harmless institutions as hospitals and schools. With such logic, the University will never take any steps to wield its shareholding power against the South African military, which buys three-quarters of its computers from IBM. Past experience shows the government orders computers for "harmless institutions" and then passes them on to places like population control centers.
By abstaining on these two resolutions, the CCSR has essentially voted "no"--no to moderate shareholder resolutions to curb the apartheid regime; no to students at Harvard who have lobbied the University for three years to take action against South African racism; and, worst of all, no to the Black South Africans who suffer as a result.
By ignoring the ACSR's recommendation, the Corporation has also exposed its "case-by-case" approach to be as indefensibly a sham as the most angry student protesters have charged. The ACSR supposedly exists to do the research leg-work that members of the Corporation lack the time for, and pass on recommendations that represent the most responsible positions--by Corporation standards.
The CCSR's abstentions show that the Corporation will listen to ACSR's voice when its "moderation" equals no steps against South Africa, but will quickly ignore its recommendations if they step beyond moderation towards responsible action. The Corporation's bald hypocrisy on these resolutions shows it wants the ACSR to help deflect student protest, but would rather it kept its conscience to itself.