University divests from high offenders

Queen’s investment committees instruct funding managers to sell shares in companies with Sudanese connections

Student lobbying has resulted in a University decision to divest from companies involved with the
Sudanese government as part of a campaign to pressure Khartoum to end the conflict in Darfur,
which the United Nations has declared genocide.

At last Saturday’s Board of Trustees meeting, the University announced it’s divesting from two Chinese oil companies, both of which are among the highest offenders on a list compiled by a Sudan Divestment Taskforce of companies involved in Sudan.

The University’s pooled investment fund divested $105,000 from the two companies and the pooled endowment fund divested $370,000. The University’s pension fund is looking into divestment from those same companies, said Principal Karen Hitchcock. “They’ll be examining that, but have plans likewise to divest and I don’t know how much money that will entail,” she said. Hitchcock said Queen’s students involved in Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND) brought the issue to her attention.
STAND has been advocating for the targeted divestment from businesses involved in Sudan. The targeted divestment campaign calls on universities to sell their shares in any company that provides a large revenue stream to the Sudanese government without providing a measurable good to the average Sudanese citizen.

“I think it’s a very important initiative and I’m very proud of our students and their involvement in it,” she said.

Hitchcock said the University directed its fund managers to divest from two particular companies,
PetroChina and China Petroleum. “There’s a fiduciary responsibility of the institution and its board to maximize returns from investments made by people supporting our university, but there’s also been
much discussion about the fact that that can coexist with a very robust policy of socially responsible investing and where those two can coexist,” she said.

“Divestment can send a very strong signal about the values of the institution.” The University has policies regarding how it invests, but there are currently no policies dealing with ethical or socially responsible investing. Hitchcock said the University is reviewing policies on socially responsible
investing.

“I will be convening a group to examine our current policies and procedures,” she said. “The issue is to be explicit about the policies and procedures around decisions of ethical investment and to be clear that strong consensus exists when such an action is taken.”

Hitchcock said she can’t say what the timeline of such a review would be. “They’re doing a very careful analysis of the policies we have, policies that other institutions have,” she said. Ira Goldstein, ArtSci ’07 and national STAND divestment co-ordinator, said the goal of divestment is first and foremost to bring an end to violence in Darfur. Last March, STAND submitted a request to the University’s freedom of information officer for a list of the University’s investments, and found PetroChina and China Petroleum to be on the list.

“When I saw that on the Queen’s list, I started learning more and more about it. Everyone [at STAND] sort of saw potential for the growth of this movement in Canada.”

The campaign started at the end of last year and has garnered the support of the SGPS and AMS. It targets companies doing business with Sudan that provide no measurable good to ordinary Sudanese citizens. It also aims to have maximal impact on the Sudanese government’s behaviour while minimizing harm to innocent Sudanese civilians. The campaign uses a rubric of what they call worst offenders, middle offenders and
lowest offenders.

A company is labeled according to their involvement in Sudan, and the worst offenders are recommended for divestment. According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force divestment model, companies labeled as worst offenders have proven to be unwilling to consider altering problematic
practices. PetroChina is second on the list of worst offenders.

Goldstein said the University’s decision to divest made him feel proud to be a Queen’s student, and he hopes other schools will follow suit.

“A couple of hundred dollars might not make a big difference but a coalition of schools will make a bigger stink,” he said. In February, the AMS decided to formally support STAND’s cause. “The AMS has some money invested in a variety of things, and we decided to pass a motion divesting from companies that we might have money in that were doing bad stuff in Sudan,” said AMS President James Macmillan.

The list of offender companies is divided into different levels, he said, and the AMS has no holdings in companies on the worst offenders list, but they do at some other levels. Macmillan said he did not know which companies specifically the AMS was investing in.

“We’re working with STAND to see if we can write a letter to the shareholders of those companies to make sure that the companies improve in terms of those corporate responsibilities, rather than going the other way,” he said.

Macmillan said universities, and especially university students, have a lot of power in situations like this. “I think we can really change a lot in the world if we engage in stuff like this,” he said, adding that he’s impressed by the effort STAND has put in toward the divestment campaign.

William Cannon, chair of the Board of Trustees’ pension committee, said the committee is meeting March 20 and will decide whether to divest from PetroChina and China Petroleum.

“There’ll be a motion put in front of the committee to ask the investment managers to divest themselves of those two holdings,” he said. “I can’t prejudge what that [decision] will be but I guess they’ll go along with it.”

Cannon estimated the pension fund has about $800,000 invested in those two companies, which is a small fraction of its total investments.

Cannon said he’s disappointed STAND members didn’t approach the committee directly about divestment. “Nobody sent me a letter or approached me; as far as I know nobody approached the members of the committee,” he said. “It became an issue that was put in front of us by the principal and my guess is we could’ve maybe dealt with this earlier if that group of students had approached me directly.” Cannon said divestment is a bit more complicated for the pension fund because it’s responsible for other people’s money.

When there was pressure to divest from companies associated with apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, Cannon said, the pension committee didn’t divest because it would have hurt the fund’s returns.
In this case, however, the amount of money is small enough that it won’t have a significant effect on the fund’s returns.

“There’s lots of different oil companies in the world we can invest in,” he said.

—With files from Anna Mehler Paperny

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