STAND demands Western commit to divestment policy

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Students ask: could those against genocide please STAND up?

After collecting over 125 letters and more than 600 signatures of support, members of Students Taking Action Now, Darfur (STAND Western) and two University Students’ Council members met with administration on Feb. 11 to propose a divestment policy in regard to the conflict in Sudan.

“We are asking the board to commit to remaining un-invested in any company on the Sudan Divestment Task Force’s ‘Highest Offender’ list,” STAND Western wrote in its proposal.

The Sudan Divestment Task Force is part of the Genocide Intervention Network, a non-profit organization aimed at educating and empowering individuals on stopping genocide.

After listening to the presentation and discussing the details of the suggested policy, administration decided to present the information at the end of March to senior operations, a committee including executives from the Board of Governors.

Leah Meidinger and Jenn Epp, co-divestment vice-presidents for STAND Western, were satisfied with the results.

“They could have decided no further discussion was needed, but [they] decided to move it forward,” Epp said.

Both emphasized the urgency of the situation, pointing out that as the board deliberates the issue, citizens of Sudan are dying each day.

Deciding not to divest may be seen as taking a neutral position, but Epp disagreed.

“We’re not uninvolved ... It affects what is happening in the rest of the world.”

Gitta Kulczycki, vice-president resources and operations at Western, commended STAND Western on its organized and well-researched presentation, but explained the issue is more complex than it appears.

“There are many varied social causes that people feel strongly about ... It becomes challenging when you’re doing that on behalf of a large community. How do you define such a policy that everyone can be comfortable?” she said.

Board member John Nash, who was also at the meeting, agreed: “The biggest issue is any board endorsing any single issue because we do represent a very wide constituency.”

“We have yet to hear a person that’s in agreement with innocent people being slaughtered,” Meidinger said.

“This case is not a grey-area case,” Epp added.

But Kulczycki said a new policy would complicate their investing methods. “Right now we’re in a pooled fund. As soon as we put a screen on other than the investment mandate, they can’t manage that as a pool anymore.”

She also pointed out the university currently has no investments in any of the “Highest Offender” list members.

“They’re not companies that the fund managers monitor. So it’s highly unlikely that they’ll invest,” she said.

This is a change from last year, when the university used a different fund manager who drew money from companies on the “Highest Offender” list.

This is why STAND wants to implement a policy " to ensure this will never happen again.

“What we’re looking for is a formal commitment never to invest in companies on the ‘Highest Offender’ list. It’s not a difficult thing to do,” Epp said.

“We understand that they have to be cautious ... but we think that this is clearly in the best interest of the university,” Meidinger explained.

Stephen Lecce, senator-at-large and next year’s USC president, attended the meeting.

“I think that the university should definitely not reinvest in those companies,” he said.

“I think the Darfur issue and genocide is clear-cut ... We need to be leaders on this issue.”

But Kulczycki suggested there may be alternatives: “One of the debates, more broadly about the use of investment screens, is whether constructive engagement with shareholders is better or is it better to divest?”

Whether or not the university decides to divest, STAND is here to stay.

“STAND still has so much awareness-raising to do. We have no plans to slow down,” Meidinger stated.

As for the divestment policy, STAND members are holding their breath until the decision at the meeting later this month.

“I’m reserving most of my response to see what happens. We don’t know whether we’ll celebrate or continue to push for this,” Meidinger said.

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