Friday, February 29, 2008

Is your money funding genocide? What can you do about it?

What's happening in Darfur, and what does my money have to do with it?

I'm not going to attempt to explain the situation in Darfur in depth (so please read up about it yourself) but here's a short summary from the Sudan Divestment Task Force:

In response to conflict with Darfurian rebel groups in February 2003, the Sudanese government, working with Arab militias called 'Janjaweed', began sponsoring wholesale ethnic cleansing of non-Arab Darfurians, almost all of whom had NO direct affiliation with the rebel groups. Since February of 2003, over 400,000 Darfurian civilians have perished. 2.5 million have been displaced due to violence, nearly 4 million are now reliant on humanitarian aid, and 90% of Darfur's villages have been looted or destroyed. On July 23, 2004, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives unanimously adopted a joint resolution declaring the atrocities in Darfur to be genocide.

Companies that enrich the Sudanese government help it fund the violence
-- oil companies that have partnered with the government to tap Sudan's oil resources are especially problematic because over 70% of Sudan's oil revenues go towards military expenditures. Many companies which operate in Sudan have instituted policies that recognize the situation and attempt to mitigate their involvement, but some have rejected this and those companies have become targets of activists working to improve conditions in Darfur and end the conflict.
The activists only target companies that 1) do business with and enrich the Sudanese government (mostly oil companies); 2) have no significant benefits for the well-being of underprivileged Sudanese; and 3) have refused to institute corporate governance policies that address their contribution to the situation in Darfur. They are given a chance to respond to shareholder engagement tactics before they are targeted for divestment. (Learn much more about this "targeted divestment" approach here.)

And the government of Sudan is paying attention-- nine companies have left or are planning to leave Sudan since the divestment campaign started, and the government is taking out ads and writing op-eds opposing the divestment movement. (Learn more about the arguments for the efficacy of divestment here.)

Click here for an easy screening tool that will tell you if your mutual fund holds one of the targeted companies. You can also download a regularly updated report that lists the individual companies at this link.

I support the idea of divesting from these companies in principle, but I don't want to switch mutual funds and/or I want to make a difference on a larger scale. What else can I do?

There are many ways you can get involved:
  • Vote in shareholder votes for genocide-free investing, starting this March for Fidelity. Shareholder votes around mutual funds' approach to genocide and crimes against humanity are being proposed and scheduled for a variety of mutual funds, and there will be votes for shareholders of dozens of Fidelity funds this spring, starting March 19th. Check this link for the applicable date for each fund and look out for your ballot in the mail. In most cases, the text of the resolution is:
    • The Board will institute procedures to prevent holding investments in companies that, in the judgment of the Board, substantially contribute to genocide or crimes against humanity, the most egregious violations of human rights.
  • Tell major mutual fund companies that you believe in genocide-free investing. Investors Against Genocide has a tool set up to help you e-mail that message to over a dozen investment companies-- if you're invested with them, you can send a message that lets them know that, and you can also send a general message to all of the companies. The list includes, but is not limited to, Fidelity, Vanguard, T Rowe Price, HSBC, and JP Morgan Chase.
  • Tell your state, city, university, or alma mater that you don't want your tax, tuition, or donation dollars invested in genocide. The Sudan Divestment Task Force has a great tool that lets you see what campaigns are active in certain states, cities, or universities in the U.S. So far, 22 states, 16 cities, and 59 universities have divested. If yours haven't, get involved in the campaigns or start one of your own!
  • If you're not in the U.S., check out what's going on in your country. This site has links to what's going on in more than a dozen countries, from Canada to the UK to Japan to South Africa.
How can I find more information about investing in mutual funds which make a point of avoiding genocide and try to be socially reponsible in other ways, too?

Check out this wonderful tool that helps you learn about dozens of socially-responsible mutual funds' performance, screening criteria, proxy voting policies, and more. And you can read some of my previous articles on socially responsible investing (SRI), including:
What do you think about the Darfur divestment campaign? Do you believe divesting from these target companies is a good idea? If so, have you taken any action?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You may find this interesting:

FOLIOfn Teams with Genocide Intervention Network and Launches First Ever Genocide-Free Stock Screening Tool