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By Matthew W. Granade

Human-rights activists, environmentalists and corporate watch-dogs have taken aim at one of the companies in which Harvard invests part of its $9 billion endowment, Freeport-McMoRan Inc., which has been accused of massive pollution and human-rights violations.

And because of a congregation of Mennonites in Seattle, Harvard will soon be required to take a stand on the issue.

Freeport operates one of the world's largest strip mines, on the Indonesian island of Irian Jaya. Its site contains, according to conservative estimates, more than $70 billion in gold.

The company's critics allege that the plant employs only workers from other islands (not the indigenous peoples); dumps 110,000 tons of tailings--earth discarded in the stripmining process--into local rivers every day; and uses the Indonesian military to patrol its plant and enforce its policies.

Critics contend that these activities have contributed to political, economic and environmental instability in Irian Jaya.

All of these charges appear in a $6 billion suit brought by a New Orleans firm on behalf of Tom Beanal, leader of the Amungme tribe who inhabits Irian Jaya.

The Seattle Mennonite Church also recently filed a stockholder resolution to require the company to postpone its planned expansion of milling operations; to end company compensation of Indonesian military personnel; to publicly release two audits of its Irian Jaya activities; and to allow independent environmental monitoring.

"The Mennonite church is a service-oriented church and concerned about people across the world who are less fortunate than we are," said Robert Pauw, a member of the Seattle Mennonite congregation. "And we have holdings [in Freeport] and we ought to encourage corporate responsibility."

If shareholders ratify the resolution at the company's upcoming shareholder meeting on April 29, the company will be required to enact their demands.

Sometime in the next two weeks, Harvard's Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CSHR) will consider its stance on the resolution.

Harvard's proxy votes, however, will be cast by the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR), a body that will consider, but not necessarily follow, the CSHR's recommendations.

Harvard's last report on shareholder responsibility showed that the CCSR was less likely to endorse a use of Harvard's clout against companies accused of human-rights violations than was the CSHR, which contains students, professors and administrators.

Student leaders who have been involved in past concerns over corporations' sensitivity to environmental and human-rights issues said yesterday that Harvard must use its billions of dollars of investment power to encourage corporate responsibility.

"Independent monitoring, releasing audits and not cooperating with extremely repressive regimes are the basis of corporate citizenship," said Ian T. Simmons '98-'99. "What do companies like Freeport have to be afraid of? Harvard needs to take the lead on asking questions and taking actions."

Freeport issued a written statement yesterday when contacted but declined to make further comment. The statement defended Freeport's policies in Irian Jaya.

"Your board of directors is keenly aware of the company's environmental and social obligation in Irian Jaya and believes that the company is doing an excellent job of meeting those responsibilities," the statement said.

The Seattle Mennonite Church became concerned about Freeport after it received a block of stock as a donation.

The $6 billion lawsuit will likely spend years in the courts, but the Amungme tribe had its first victory recently when U.S. Federal Judge Stanford Duval Jr. Ruled that American federal courts have jurisdiction over the dispute.

However, he also ordered the plaintiffs to make their allegations more specific over the next two weeks. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are now in the process of clarifying their complaints according to international law

If shareholders ratify the resolution at the company's upcoming shareholder meeting on April 29, the company will be required to enact their demands.

Sometime in the next two weeks, Harvard's Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CSHR) will consider its stance on the resolution.

Harvard's proxy votes, however, will be cast by the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR), a body that will consider, but not necessarily follow, the CSHR's recommendations.

Harvard's last report on shareholder responsibility showed that the CCSR was less likely to endorse a use of Harvard's clout against companies accused of human-rights violations than was the CSHR, which contains students, professors and administrators.

Student leaders who have been involved in past concerns over corporations' sensitivity to environmental and human-rights issues said yesterday that Harvard must use its billions of dollars of investment power to encourage corporate responsibility.

"Independent monitoring, releasing audits and not cooperating with extremely repressive regimes are the basis of corporate citizenship," said Ian T. Simmons '98-'99. "What do companies like Freeport have to be afraid of? Harvard needs to take the lead on asking questions and taking actions."

Freeport issued a written statement yesterday when contacted but declined to make further comment. The statement defended Freeport's policies in Irian Jaya.

"Your board of directors is keenly aware of the company's environmental and social obligation in Irian Jaya and believes that the company is doing an excellent job of meeting those responsibilities," the statement said.

The Seattle Mennonite Church became concerned about Freeport after it received a block of stock as a donation.

The $6 billion lawsuit will likely spend years in the courts, but the Amungme tribe had its first victory recently when U.S. Federal Judge Stanford Duval Jr. Ruled that American federal courts have jurisdiction over the dispute.

However, he also ordered the plaintiffs to make their allegations more specific over the next two weeks. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are now in the process of clarifying their complaints according to international law

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