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Scott Warren ’09: Corporation must fully divest from Sudan

Brown's waffling over divestment has wasted precious time - action is needed now

By
Friday, February 24, 2006

Tomorrow morning, the Brown Corporation will convene to vote on the issue of divesting from companies currently conducting business in Sudan. Because of the genocide occurring in Sudan’s Darfur region, these companies are explicitly providing capital used by the Sudanese government to systematically eliminate persons of African descent. Recognizing these facts, Harvard, Stanford and Yale universities as well as Dartmouth and Amherst colleges have all divested from companies doing business in Sudan. Brown has the opportunity to do the same on Saturday, but it appears that the University will take a half-hearted approach.

Throughout the last few months, members of Brown’s Darfur Action Network have worked with the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investing to come up with a list of companies aiding the Sudanese government’s genocidal activities. After much research, we unanimously concluded nine companies that fit a specific criterion. In reference to lists of companies developed by other institutions, expert Sudan researcher Eric Reeves called Brown’s “one of the best yet.” The Brown University Community Council and the Undergraduate Council of Students both enthusiastically recommended that the Corporation divest from these specific companies. There is little doubt that the nine companies are providing capital that is aiding the Sudanese government to maintain its genocidal practices.

It seems, though, that the Corporation will not be voting on this list. Instead, it will solely be voting on the simple concept of divestment from Sudan. Members plan to vote on specific companies to divest from at a later point in time. This is unacceptable. While the University wavers in its full decision, genocide still occurs in Sudan. An estimated 500 people are dying every day, and Brown University will be invested in companies aiding the Sudanese government to do this. The student population cannot allow this to occur.

A statement from the Corporation simply expressing interest in divesting from Sudan has the potential to hurt a blossoming movement. Yale, owning the second-largest endowment in the country, divested from seven oil companies in Sudan on Feb. 15. It did not issue a statement; it acted. Only a week earlier, Amherst, with the blessing of a Nobel Prize winning-economist, divested from 20 companies. As a prestigious Ivy League university with a considerable endowment, we have a real opportunity to keep the ball rolling. We have an opportunity to help the University of California divest, to help the state of Rhode Island introduce a divestment resolution and to help the student divestment campaign receive national news coverage. We also have the opportunity to help stall divestment campaigns throughout the country.

If nothing else, the delay in action reduces the amount of press Brown will receive. After last week’s Yale decision, the AP wire sent the story to over 100 news outlets throughout the country. In response, CNN contacted the students, expressing interest in a segment featuring the divestment movement. Brown has a prime opportunity to be exposed to national media and demonstrate social responsibility through our investments. After the Sex Power God media coverage, it would be a welcome change: Brown students helping the University to further a national campaign to end the genocide in Darfur. If the University only issues a statement, it is running a risk of attracting negative publicity because of its failure to completely embrace this important social issue.

Saturday morning, we will be holding a rally to encourage the University to vote on a complete proposal to divest from the nine-targeted companies conducting business in Sudan. CNN is interested in using footage from this gathering, and there is a large possibility it will be covered by local NBC and FOX affiliates. We strongly encourage all students to attend and demonstrate a support for this important cause.

In a December editorial, The Herald criticized the Corporation for failing to quickly act on the issue of Sudan divestment. The Herald “consider(ed) this delay, as well as the lack of clarity surrounding the University’s position on divestment, unnecessary and inappropriate for such a pressing issue.” This was three months ago, and yet the Corporation continues to stall. As an educational institution that prides itself on social responsibility, Brown should be setting the precedent on this issue, not taking away from other efforts. On Saturday morning, President Ruth Simmons needs to confidently walk in to the Corporation meeting with a list of nine companies in hand. Anything short of this will be detrimental to the nation-wide divestment campaign.

Scott Warren ’09 asks you to support the Darfur Action Network.

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