A high official of the Carnation Co yesterday defended his firm's employment practices in South Africa and said that the company was being "responsive" to Harvard inquiries about the reportedly low wages it pays its Black workers.
"We do not discriminate in our operations." Carnation Corporate Secretary Warren N. Brakensiek said yesterday in a telephone interview from the company's Los Angeles headquarters.
He added that the company has always complied with widely accepted equal employment guidelines for U.S. companies doing business in the apartheid state.
However, Carnation last year was one of four companies in Harvard's portfolio which failed to abide by the so-called Sullivan Principles which set minimum requirements on South Africa employment practices. Since the spring, the University's governing Corporation has repeatedly requested the company to explain why it does not measure up to the principles.
The Corporation's chief official responsible for shareholder ethics, Hugh Calkins '45, said this week that Harvard has not received all of the answers it was looking for from Carnation and said he would send another letter to the company requesting further information. But he has declined to set a deadline for acting on a recommendation that the University divert itself of its $6.5 million worth of shares in the company.
That recommendation was made last spring by Harvard's Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, which makes non-binding recommendations to the Corporation on ethical issues related to Harvard's $2 billion endowment.
In making the recommendation, the committee expressed concern about Carnation's failure to meet the basic Sullivan requirements and also over the firm's inadequate responses to inquiries about its operations.
Brakensick yesterday attributed that initial failure to respond to a turnover in the company's officials responsible for shareholder concerns. His predecessor had retired at the beginning of Harvard's correspondence with the firm, allowing the University letters to "kind of fall through the cracks," he said.
That initial slowness to respond contributed to "the negative feeling toward the company" at Harvard, Brakensiek conceded. But he insisted that since the summer Carnation has cooperated fully with Harvard, sending the University several letters.
Carnation manufactures milk products fruit concentrates, and pet accessories in its South Africa plants, and employs more than 1000 workers there, both Black and White.
"The company at all times is concerned about the quality of life of its employees" and is proud of its efforts in helping its Black workers, Brakensiek said, citing company activities in educating and training employees.
Asked about the failure of Carnation to meet the Sullivan Principles, he cited recent tightening of the regulations, but he would not elaborate further Long before the principles were drawn up in 1977, he said, "our operations conformed with the spirit and the tenets" of those rules. "The Sullivan Principles are nothing new," he added.