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University Releases '97 Shareholder Responsibility Report

* Environmental, human rights issues dominate this year's agenda


This year, environmental issues and human rights questions dominated the agenda of Harvard's shareholder responsibility committees, which released their annual report yesterday. In contrast to recent years, few questions relating to tobacco were discussed.

Harvard is an important voice in the policies of many of the companies in which it invests its $10.8 billion endowment. The report reveals how the Harvard Corporation, one of Harvard's governing boards, voted on issues relating to social responsibility in those companies.

The Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR) determines the University's stances on these proposals and is advised by the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR), a 12-member committee of faculty, student, and alumni.

The University voted against or abstained in the votes on 21 environmental reform plans. The reforms would have included researching the elimination of nuclear power plants, stopping oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and requiring reporting on carbon dioxide emissions.

However, the number of tobacco-related votes was fewer than in past years.

"We have won the tobacco battle--Harvard no longer owns any tobacco stocks, so we don't have to deal with proxies relating to any of the companies that make cigarettes," said Bernard Wolfman, Fessenden professor of law and chair of the ACSR.

Harvard does still own stocks in companies that sell products to tobacco companies, Wolfmann said.

The CCSR voted in favor of proposals to abolish cigarette smoking in Wendy's restaurants. It did not follow ACSR's recommendation of support for the proposal that H.B. Fuller should report on its sales of adhesive materials to the tobacco industry and any risks posed by those sales.

The CCSR also abstained from a proposal that Aon corporation divest its tobacco stock holdings and on both proposals it received regarding equal opportunity and diversity issues.

Both bodies abstained on or opposed the seven proposals they addressed related to political contributions and from the resolutions addressing executive compensation and board composition.

The CCSR abstained from or opposed most proposals dealing with labor conditions in foreign countries.

In 70 percent of all cases considered by both committees, the CCSR followed the ACSR's recommendation. In 20 percent of all cases, one committee abstained while the other voted for or against a proposition and in 10 percent of all cases, the ACSR vote was split.

Traditionally, the ACSR has taken a more activist stance on social issues than the CCSR, and students on the ACSR committee in the past have been very active in urging the University to use its leverage to affect change.

According to Wolfman, the two committees get along "very well."

"We don't agree on everything," he said. "But there's very good discussion and a lot of mutual respect."

The committee addressed fewer proposals this year than it has in previous years, voting on 80 proposals, down from 85 last year and 128 five years ago.

The number is going down, according to Wolfman, "Only because dissenters in companies have been submitting fewer proposals."

"In many instances, companies have made changes which satisfy the dissenters and therefore it's no longer necessary for them to make proposals," he said.

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