IN ITS MOST recent report to the Harvard Corporation, the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) recommended that the University continue its role as the pen pal of corporate managers, writing "forcefully worded" letters to persuade reluctant corporations to confess their sins and reform.
The ACSR piously states the obvious--that the South Africa government's policy of apartheid is abhorrent--and feigns a deep concern about American corporate support of the South African status quo. At the same time, however, it advises Harvard to do as littlehas possible to pressure companies in which the University owns stock to reform their employment policies, and less to withdraw from the country entirely.
Twelve of the 42 corporations that have already been asked to provide information about their South African operations either have chosen not to answer Harvard's questionnaire or have answered inadequately. So what does the ACSR propose to do? Write them again. What the committee fails to realize is that these companies will continue to scoff at Harvard's alleged concern about corporate involvement in South Africa as long as the University refuses to go public.
A. Michael Spence, professor of Economics and chairman of the ASCR, admitted at the Faculty meeting before spring break that initiating shareholder resolutions can be an effective way to pressure corporations to withdraw from South Africa. But the ACSR shrinks from even this tame action. Instead, Harvard will adopt a reactive stance with regard to shareholder resolutions, voting on those introduced by others, but refusing to initiate its own. Tuesday, the ACSR voted to support a resolution calling on the Timkin Corporation to withdraw from South Africa because it had not provided the University with enough information to judge the company's South African investments. But what about the eleven other corporations that thumbed their noses at Harvard? The University should not rely on the actions of others on this issue of paramount importance.
ANOTHER DISTURBING implication of the report is that in order to make "a fair and reasonable evaluation" the ACSR will need to collect data for several years before taking any action. Harvard should quit stalling. The evidence the ACSR did succeed in gathering is clear. The blacks who work for these corporations are clustered at the bottom of the pay scale, and are destined to stay there as long as blacks in South Africa are denied basic political and economic rights. Even if the corporations adopted and enforced equitable labor practices, the corporations would still, by their very presence, be supporting the status quo.
The time has come to stop begging corporations for more data and to start taking some action.