Activist Group Condemns Endowment’s Link to Gunmakers
A student and alumni activist group criticized Harvard this week for its investment in an index fund that is a major shareholder of firearm manufacturer Smith & Wesson.
The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition pointed out the connection in an emailed press release on Tuesday. Although not included in the press release, a second major firearm manufacturer—Sturm, Ruger, & Co., Inc.—is also linked to Harvard through the same index fund.
Harvard’s connection to these gunmakers is distant.
The Harvard Management Company’s most recent filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission indicate no direct holdings in arms manufacturers, but rather an investment in a massive portfolio of companies that represent countless industries in the American economy, including gun manufacturing. HMC manages the University’s $30 billion endowment.
In these filings, HMC reported that it has nearly $3 million invested in the iShares Russell 2000 Index Fund—a portfolio of 2,000 American companies. According to financial magazine Barron’s, the Russell 2000 Index Fund is considered to be representative of changes in the broader American economy.
Harvard’s investment in the index fund drew attention from Responsible Investment at Harvard because the Russell 2000 is a major shareholder in Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger, & Co., Inc., which are two of the country’s top gun manufacturers.
“I think the key takeaway here is that Harvard’s money...is going to support the manufacture and production of assault weapons,” said Nicole E. Granath ’15, co-director of Responsible Investment at Harvard. She added that even though the investment is indirect, any amount of money going to gunmakers is symbolic of support for the industry.
Harvard spokesperson Kevin Galvin said that while the University does not comment on specific holdings, HMC’s strategy includes both internally and externally managed investments including exchange funds that “track broad swaths of the markets.”
The press release alluded to a national debate over gun control policies that has been galvanized in recent months by mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.
“Given the tragedy in Newton and the fatal shooting on campus four years ago, Harvard’s failure to address these holdings is shocking,” said Kevin S. Wang ’16 in the press release. Wang is Responsible Investment at Harvard’s investments coordinator. “Stopping gun violence should be a critical concern for the University, and severing financial ties with these companies is a good first step,” he said.
Responsible Investment at Harvard’s press release added that the $244 billion pension fund for California government employees divested from index funds connected to Smith & Wesson after the Newtown shooting. Several other major public pension funds across the country have done the same.
Granath said her group’s discovery points to what she believes is a larger problem at Harvard—the lack of a clear, consistent policy toward weighing social concerns when making investment decisions.
“Ultimately we’d love for that process to be a little more open, to have Harvard make a clear statement on what its position is when we get to sticky social issues,” she said.
She said HMC has occasionally, but not consistently, adjusted investment strategy due to social concerns, such as when it divested from tobacco companies in 1990.
To rectify what she described as a “spotty” track record, she said that HMC should issue a policy statement regarding the social impact of investments, along with an explanation of the actions it would take if its holdings violate that policy.
She added that she hopes HMC’s newly created position, the vice president of sustainable investing, will lead to further clarity and action at HMC regarding the social impact of investments.
“We hope that this is something that the new office will look into immediately,” she said.
—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @NikitaKansra.
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @syweinstock.