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Don’t Bank on Genocide

By Peter N. Ganong and Daniel J. Hemel

Representatives from UBS will visit Harvard’s Faculty Club on Nov. 14 to recruit summer interns for their firm. They will advertise the fact that UBS is one of the world’s leading investment banks and that it manages assets worth well over $2 trillion. But there is one aspect of UBS’s operations that might escape mention at the recruitment session: The bank plays an important role in underwriting the supporters of Sudan’s genocidal government.The Swiss-based bank is arranging a massive stock offering that could raise more than $8.9 billion for PetroChina, the publicly-listed arm of the China National Petroleum Corp. UBS and PetroChina/CNPC hope that the stock offering will be the largest in Chinese securities-exchange history. Earnings from the stock offering will fund new PetroChina/CNPC projects across the world. And one of the company’s chief growth areas is Sudan, where it has allied with the government of Omar al-Bashir, whose regime is engaged in a systematic effort to exterminate ethnic minorities.

Already, PetroChina/CNPC is the largest player in the Sudanese oil industry, but in the past few months, the company’s presence in the East African nation has expanded markedly. In June, PetroChina/CNPC signed a 20-year deal to develop Sudan’s offshore oil production—a project that will open up a new stream of revenue for the Sudanese government, which spends 70 percent of its oil earnings on the country’s armed forces. According to a 2005 Harvard report, oil exports are “a crucial source of revenue for the Sudanese government, essential to the government’s capacity to fund military operations.” In the past four years, those military operations have targeted innocent villagers in the Darfur region, directly and indirectly causing more than 200,000 deaths, according to U.N. estimates.

In April 2005, the Harvard Corporation, the University’s senior governing body, instructed Harvard’s endowment managers not to invest directly in PetroChina. Harvard’s move kick-started a nationwide divestment campaign: Since then, 20 U.S. states and more than 50 universities have followed Harvard’s lead and cut their direct ties to PetroChina. Harvard’s move sent a clear message to PetroChina: If you keep on supporting the genocidal regime in Sudan, you will face serious financial repercussions, and your access to worldwide capital markets will be limited.

Other companies have heard Harvard’s message. The German engineering conglomerate Siemens, the Swiss-based power company ABB, and CHC Helicopter of Canada have all said that they will leave Sudan. In April, Rolls Royce announced it would shut down its activities there as well. “This is a responsible line to adopt in the current circumstances,” the carmaker said.

UBS, however, has yet to take that responsible line. Three Nobel Peace Prize winners have asked UBS to tell its Chinese client to “halt its operations in Sudan or implement a rigorous corporate governance policy that would mitigate the impact of its operations on innocent civilians,” Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, landmine campaigner Jody Williams, and Northern Ireland peace activist Betty Williams wrote in an Oct. 22 letter to the Times of London. The laureates added that if PetroChina/CNPC rejects these requests, UBS should withdraw from the stock offering.

This is not the first time in its history that UBS has turned a blind eye to mass murder. While thousands of European Jews had deposited their savings at the bank in the 1930s, UBS refused to return those assets to victims’ families after World War II. It wasn’t until August 1998 that UBS finally agreed to compensate victims’ families. And even as the bank was negotiating the settlement with Jewish groups, UBS began to shred the World War II-era archives of a subsidiary that had maintained close ties to the Nazi regime. (UBS said that the shredding was a “deplorable mistake” and apologized.) Given that UBS has already expressed contrition for its Holocaust history, it is especially outrageous that the bank would again ignore the plight of genocide victims.

Today, UBS relies on recent university graduates to staff its offices around the world, using the best and brightest from Harvard and other top schools to maintain its position as a leader in the financial-services sector. But this success is dependent on the willingness of top university graduates to work for a company that underwrites genocide. For seniors seeking jobs after graduation, the deadline to apply for UBS is Nov. 15. For students applying for internships at the investment bank, the deadline is next March 15. If the budding bankers of Harvard submit their CVs to UBS, they will be adding manpower to a bank that—indirectly—is complicit in one of the most horrific humanitarian crisis on the planet. But Harvard students have another option: we can tell UBS that by underwriting genocide, UBS will undermine its own recruitment efforts.

Students can send the same message even more directly by visiting UBSPetition.org. There, you can sign a letter to UBS chairman Marcel Ospel stating that you will not apply for a job or internship at UBS until the investment bank cleans up its act in Sudan. Specifically, Ospel must comply with the reasonable recommendations set forth by Wiesel and his fellow Nobel laureates. Tell Ospel that as long as he chooses to profit from genocide, he won’t be able to profit from you.

Peter N. Ganong ’09 is an economics concentrator in Adams House and a member of the Harvard Darfur Action Group. Daniel J. Hemel ’07, former managing editor of The Crimson, is studying international relations at Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship.

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