A student campaign to end Harvard’s investments in HEI Hotels & Resorts—a hotel company that includes Hilton and Marriott properties that has been accused of violating workers’ rights—has gained momentum recently after Brown University President Ruth Simmons announced earlier this week that Brown will end future investment in the company.
Harvard’s Student Labor Action Movement launched a campaign against HEI in 2008 but largely abandoned the mission because the University was unresponsive.
United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS)—a national advocacy group that has assisted students in organizing protests at their schools—has alleged that HEI has repeatedly violated workers’ rights, including unfairly increasing workload. USAS has worked on a campaign to end investment in HEI for nearly three years.
SLAM is currently in the process of drafting a recommendation to the University’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility that Harvard not reinvest in HEI. But the University has remained silent on its plans with respect to the investment.
“While we do not generally discuss individual investments or investment strategies, Harvard has a strong institutional presumption against divesting stock for reasons unrelated to investment purposes,” said University spokesperson John D. Longbrake in a statement.
Though Harvard’s exact investment in HEI is unknown, SLAM estimates that it is over $70 million. HEI accrued over $1 billion in endowment equity placements from 2004-2008, including money from Yale, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, and Notre Dame, according to USAS.
“This is an irresponsible corporation and it does not reflect the values of a university,” said Vicko Alvarez a campus coordinator for USAS. Alvarez said that students should not back down even if the University “gives all of the excuses that [divestment] cannot be done, that it is impossible.”
At Notre Dame students participated in a hunger strike, and Yale students staged a sit-in in the investments office, according to USAS. Brown students marched in University Hall with vacuums and mops to “clean up Brown’s investments,” and acted out a mock wedding between Brown’s Investment Office and “HEI’s Corporate Greed.”
On Sunday Simmons sent an e-mail to Brown students pledging to end future investment in HEI, USAS said.
Alvarez said she believes that Harvard students are in a position to build off of the campaigns at other universities.
SLAM member William P. Whitham ’14 said that this campaign is “an especially obvious manifestation of a larger campaign for transparency.”
Whitham said he believes the University needs to be held accountable for the social costs of its investments. “These investments effect people. They are not just numbers,” he said. “If Brown can do it, why can’t Harvard?”
—Staff writer Zoe A.Y. Weinberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.