After years of pushing for corporate withdrawal from South Africa, Harvard investment advocates are recommending that the University soften its stance on some companies with holdings in that country in light of recent events there.
The Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, made up of faculty members, alumni and students, made unprecedented recommendations this year to the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility asking that it vote down resolutions calling for the withdrawal of some companies from South Africa, according to the Corporation committee's report released last week.
In response, the Corporation committee, made up of three Corporation members, may soon reconsider its policy toward South Africa but for now has decided to maintain its current position of selective divestment, the report said.
The report also said that Harvard's stake in 21 companies with holdings in South Africa remained somewhat steady in the first half of 1991, dropping $10 million, or roughly six percent, to $148.1 million.
Harvard generally does not invest in companies that have more than one percent of their holdings in South Africa, according to the report.
The Corporation makes its investment decisions regarding companies doing business in South Africa based in part on the Sullivan Principles, a set of standards calling for equitable treatment of Black and white workers, opportunity for training and job advancement, the recognition of unions and other fair employment practices.
Some members of the advisory committee have pointed to the release of Nelson Mandela and the repeal of some apartheid laws as signs of marked improvement in the country, arguing that Harvard should send a message that it appreciates these recent developments, according to the report.
"Both committees are watching [the changes in South Africa] very carefully," said Elizabeth A. Gray, secretary to the Corporation committee.
The advisory committee opposed shareholder resolutions that called for the withdrawal of Colgate and International Paper from South Africa. According to the report, those voting against the resolution argued that the companies could have a positive influence in a post-apartheid South Africa.
The three-member Corporation committee of D. Ronald Daniel, Robert G. Stone and chair Charles P. Slichter '45 did not follow the advisory committee's position, instead continuing its policy of urging withdrawal, because of concerns that Harvard might send a signal that enough has been done to end apartheid, the report said.
"Last year was a difficult, transitional period," said D'arbeloff Pro- fessor of Business Administration William A. Sahlman, chair of the advisory committee. "People are trying to understand and react to changes in South Africa."
Shareholders annually submit resolutions asking their companies to withdraw from or cut ties with South Africa. For the companies Harvard hold shares in, the Corporation committee may vote on such resolutions each year.
The committee also favored resolutions calling for the withdrawal of Baker Hughes, Gillette and Borden, and supported two resolutions calling on General Motors to cut ties with South Africa.
In its report, the committee attributed the slight decline in the value of Harvard's South Africa-related holdings to the University's sale of some shares in three of these companies.
Officials said the moves to sell were merely financial maneuvering by Harvard Management Company, which handles Harvard's $6 billion in assets.
"They were investment decisions," said Cheryl A. Thurman, assistant secretary to both committees.
The Corporation report also listed the University's ethical investment positions on other key issues, such as the environment and tobacco interests.
The Corporation committee voted against new shareholder resolutions asking more than 20 companies to become signatories to the Valdez Principles, a code of environmental conduct for corporations.
The vote came at the recommendation of the advisory committee, which considered the Valdez Principles to be too far-reaching and detailed, poorly written and in some cases, legally problematic, according to the report.
The Corporation also continued its policy of refusing to invest in companies involved in the tobacco industry