Panel Releases Darfur Shares Report

Committee calls for 'no change' in University's divestment policy

While Harvard added another Darfur-linked oil firm to its Sudan divestment hit list on Friday, the University officially condoned its indirect holdings that have previously been the subject of much debate.

In a report released on Friday, the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR)—the two-member panel responsible for reviewing ethical issues surrounding the University’s investments—examined two issues that relate to companies with alleged links to Darfur. They explored the issue of “indirect” investments in Sudan, and they considered the consequences of adopting a broader set of criteria for divestment.

In the past two years, Harvard has divested from two Chinese oil firms, Sinopec and PetroChina, both accused of helping to fund the genocide in Darfur through their investments in Sudan.

But in January, The Crimson reported that the University maintains indirect holdings—a total of more than $12 million—in these companies through certain funds in its investment portfolio.

The CCSR report thus explored whether to revise the University’s previous policy, which did “not extend to investment vehicles over which the University does not exercise direct control over composition and investment decisions.”

In concordance with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR)—the panel of students, faculty, and alums that had been assigned the task of researching these issues—the CCSR report “concluded that no change in the University’s divestment policy with respect to indirect investment is called for.”

The only change regarding this standing policy was the adoption of the ACSR’s recommendation to keep third-party fund managers apprised of Harvard’s direct divestment decisions.

The CCSR report said it hoped this change might encourage these managers “to take such policies into consideration as they make their own investment decisions.”

The CCSR also addressed a proposal from a concerned student organization, the Harvard Darfur Action Group (HDAG), which had garnered over 1400 petition signatures and sent letters to Interim President Derek C. Bok and President-elect Drew G. Faust regarding its proposed divestment model.

The model would have established a much broader set of criteria for evaluating direct divestment decisions than is currently in place. According to the CCSR report, HDAG’s model, which was adopted from a nationwide divestment activist organization, would extend divestment to as many as “a few dozen” companies.

In ultimately declining HDAG’s proposed divestment scheme, the committees looked into the reasoning that has governed divestment in the past, focusing on Harvard’s role in heavily-politicized situations.

“The ACSR stressed that ‘the University, as an academic rather than a political institution, must take great care to avoid leveraging its endowment or prestige in ways that could embroil the institution in political and social controversies not directly related to its academic pursuits,” the report read, “and thus compromise the core values and independence of the academic enterprise.’”

In what may be a homage to HDAG members and other students who vocalize their positions on social issues, the report acknowledged that these are decisions “in which different institutions and thoughtful individuals of goodwill are apt to prefer somewhat differing approaches and reach somewhat differing outcomes in view of similar concerns.”

The end of the report adds a third company, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, to its list of companies to divest from. Although Harvard does not have a direct stake in ONGC, it does own more than $1.5 million worth of shares in the company through funds managed by the Blackstone Group and the British Bank Barclays.

The policy will not affect these holdings, but, as with Sinopec and PetroChina, Harvard will inform third-party money manager’s of its new decisions regarding ONGC.

—Staff writer Nathan C. Strauss can be reached at strauss@fas.havard.edu.