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Board votes against investments in Sudan
The Amherst College Board of Trustees voted in January to divest any direct holdings, and refrain from future direct investment, in nearly two dozen multinational companies whose business activities have been identified as supporting the Sudanese government.
The Board’s decision is part of a broader set of actions that are designed to encourage change in the Sudan. In addition to this specific motion, Amherst intends to communicate its position to its fund managers, a small number of whom do have limited holdings (through pooled or commingled investment funds) in a subset of the companies on Amherst’s divestment list; support the interest that a group of Amherst students have in exploring ways of leveraging the college’s decision across other academic institutions, pension funds and investment pools; support student research or internships with NGOs or other organizations that are engaged in efforts to change the genocidal policies of the Sudanese government or to support those directly impacted by such policies; and encourage actions by Amherst faculty and staff to communicate their concerns about the Sudanese government to managers of investment and retirement pools in which faculty and staff participate.
In researching the issues associated with this decision, the Board’s Investment Committee noted “clear and mounting evidence that the government of Sudan is committing genocide against the people of its Darfur region.” The Board further determined that rather than a broad divestment from all companies doing business in Sudan, it would focus its actions on specific companies—primarily in the oil and gas, energy and telecommunications industries—that are “[providing] the government of Sudan with substantial financial resources and the infrastructure to continue the sponsorship of genocidal actions in Darfur.” The Board noted that such a “divestment action should be considered rarely and only in the face of human atrocities that are wholly inconsistent with the moral and ethical values of Amherst College.”
In communicating this decision to third-party fund managers, “we want to be sure that our investment managers understand our stance on this important issue as they consider their own investment strategies,” said trustee Bill Ford ’83, who chairs the Board’s Investment Committee. “In addition,” said Board of Trustees chair Jide Zeitlin ’85, “we hope to encourage a climate in which an increasing number of colleges, universities and pension funds take similar actions. Corporations may come to realize that their economic and social interests are not well served by activities that benefit the Sudanese government but have a negative, often lethal, impact on a significant number of Sudanese people.”
In voting for the resolution, trustee Joseph Stiglitz ’64, a Nobel Prize- winning economist and a member of the faculty at Columbia University School of Business, noted that investment in the companies on Amherst’s list wasn’t creating jobs for the people in the region. “In this case, I see little or no development benefit to investment; but I do see enormous human and economic costs,” he said.
Amherst College President Anthony W. Marx, who lived and worked in South Africa after graduating from college and whose subsequent scholarly research has focused in part on political change in that nation, noted that divestment has the potential to spark powerful political change. “The Amherst Board has been thoughtful and exacting in considering how to contribute to change in the Sudan, using our influence consistent with our principles,” Marx said. “We have tried to set clear criteria for the companies on our list, and we will be clear about communicating those criteria to the public. Further, we hope to do what so many other colleges and universities have not: to communicate to our fund managers our concerns and expectations, and to inspire them to examine their own investments in this region.”
Amherst does not now directly own securities in any of these identified companies. For a full list of the companies in which Amherst will not invest, as well as the complete text of the trustee resolution, go to www.amherst.edu/magazine/darfur.