Students pressure Harvard to divest

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (U-WIRE) – More than 400 students have signed an online petition calling on Harvard University to shed its $13 million of indirect holdings in companies that do business with Sudan.

The petition comes nearly two years after the University announced it would be divesting from Chinese oil firm PetroChina because of its dealings with the Sudanese government, and one year after Harvard announced that it would sell its holdings in Sinopec, another company accused of helping to finance genocide in the Darfur region of the country.

On March 1, the Harvard Darfur Action Group, with the support of more than 20 University faculty members and instructors and 50 student groups, delivered a letter to interim President Derek C. Bok requesting a meeting with him to discuss a “model for targeted divestment” from Sudan.

“We got faculty support, we delivered the letter, and now we’re showing strong student support,” said freshman Julie T. Shapiro ’10, the current president of HDAG.

After Harvard announced its divestment from PetroChina and Sinopec, The Crimson reported in January that the University still had indirect holdings not only in PetroChina and Sinopec, but also in Petronas, a Malaysian oil company with operations in Sudan.

These holdings are maintained through investments in various index funds managed by the British bank Barclays, and, according to Harvard’s latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the University still indirectly held $13.4 million in the three companies at the end of 2006.

University spokesman John D. Longbrake said last month, before the students began collecting signatures, that Harvard’s divestment policy only applied to direct holdings.

The divestment plan “does not extend to investment vehicles over which the University does not exercise direct control over composition and investment decisions,” Longbrake said.

But Shapiro said HDAG still urged further divestment.

“Either way, the money is still going to these companies, whether it’s direct or indirect,” Shapiro said.

Junior Tom D. Hadfield, who has helped HDAG to add the petition to its Web site, hopes the growing show of support will convince others to join.

“This is obviously an issue that many undergraduates care passionately about,” Hadfield said. “It is crucial that students speak with one voice to call on the administration to divest from Sudan.”