R.I. legislators seek divestment from Sudan

By
Thursday, February 8, 2007

In an effort to help end the genocide in Darfur, state officials announced a bill yesterday to divest state pension funds from companies operating in Sudan. Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Dist. 12, and Sen. Rhoda Perry P’91, D-Dist. 3, made the announcement with General Treasurer Frank Caprio and students involved with the Sudan Divestment Task Force, including Scott Warren ’09.

If passed, the bill would remove state pension funds currently invested in companies that support the Sudanese government and invest them elsewhere. The bill would target companies with military supply contracts in Sudan as well as companies involved with power production, oil and mining in Sudan. The three industries are heavily taxed by the Sudanese government and provide a substantial revenue boon, according to a press release.

Rep. David Segal, D-Dist. 2, told The Herald the divestment would amount to approximately $2 million, and the money divested from those companies would be moved to other companies uninvolved in Sudan.

Warren, the senior national field organizer for the Sudan Divestment Task Force, spoke at the press conference. Warren urged legislators “not to allow genocide to occur on our watch and certainly not allow it to occur on our dime.”

At the press conference, Caprio called the proposed bill “the model bill for states going forward.” The model adopted in this bill, called “targeted divestment,” is designed to cut off funds to the government in question while minimizing the harm to the people of Sudan. The bill only requires divestment from companies that “have a business relationship with the (Sudanese) government” and provide only minimal benefits to underprivileged Sudanese citizens. A targeted divestment bill was recently passed by the California state legislature, and other models of divestment have been passed by five other states.

Warren told The Herald that the Sudan Divestment Task Force has identified 25 to 30 companies that are “the worst offenders in Sudan.” While he acknowledged the genocide in Darfur would not end tomorrow, Warren said divestment puts “much-needed economic pressure on the (Sudanese) government,” which will be effective alongside political pressure from the international community. “Divestment is one tool to end genocide, and it’s one we feel we can effectively pursue,” he said.

“We want to send a message to the targeted companies and to all companies: The loophole in America will be closed,” Caprio said.

Warren told The Herald that a similar bill was introduced last year by Almeida “because I approached him,” but it never made it out of committee. Warren said the bill’s drafters are “hopeful” for its passage.

Segal said in addition to Caprio’s support, this year’s bill has a much better chance of passage because the issue of the genocide in Darfur has become “more mainstream over the past several months.”

Segal, a former member of the Providence City Council, co-sponsored an ordinance, passed last April, that made Providence the first U.S. city to divest funds from Sudan. Segal said the divestment of state funds would happen “at absolutely no cost to us,” and it would be “deplorable for us” not to pass the bill.

The Brown student group Darfur Action Network will be lobbying for the bill’s passage in the coming weeks, Warren said, and students will be going down to the State House when the General Assembly is in session to lobby legislators on the bill.