Talking to Your Treasurer About Genocide

How can you make your university take action to end genocide?

One way would be to press your university to use the power of its investments.

Educational institutions invest trillions of dollars, primarily through their endowments. As shareholders, universities are partial owners of thousands of publicly traded companies. Through those ownership stakes, unviersities can put pressure on corporations to stop doing business with governments engaged in genocide. This kind of shareholder activism can be more powerful than selling – or divesting – stock in companies.

Does your university own stock in Chevron? It likely does because Chevron is a very widely held company. For two years, shareholders of Chevron have filed a shareholder resolution putting pressure on the oil company, the largest U.S. investor in Burma (Myanmar), to adopt a policy of not doing business with government engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity. In 2017, that resolution received the votes of approximately 6% of shareholders at Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting. Since then, it is reported that Chevron has raised issues of human rights with the Burmese government.

International Campaign for the Rohingya is working with shareholders owning over $50 billion in assets to put pressure on all of the oil companies in Burma. This shareholder group has also pressed major jewelry retailers not to buy gems that profit the Burmese army.

How can you successfully press your university to join the growing number of shareholders taking action to end genocide? You can start by asking your university treasurer some key questions.

  • What stocks does the university own? Does it own Chevron?

Many educational institutions, especially public universities, make public their stock holdings. Many others will simply provide that information on request. Some will only reveal their holdings after feeling pressure from a campaign asking for disclosure.

Zero in on your university’s direct holdings of shares. Those are shares that your university owns outright and can vote in favor of shareholder resolutions such as the one at Chevron.

  • Does the university have a policy guiding how it votes its shares?

Some universities have developed a policy guiding how they vote their shares on resolutions raising environmental, social, and governances (ESG) issues. Ask for a copy of the current policy and request that it include a provision that the university vote in favor of resolutions asking companies to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • How has the university voted its shares in the past?

Some universities publish a report showing how they voted on each shareholder resolution. Whether this is public or not, find out whether your university held Chevron stock in 2017 and, if so, how it voted those shares on the resolution pressing the company to adopt a policy of not doing business with governments engaged in genocide or crimes against humanity.

  • Does the university work with other shareholders to promote corporate responsibility?

Some universities are members of US SIF – The Forum for Sustainable and Reponsible Investment, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Principles for Responsible Investment, or the Council of Institutional Investors. If your university is a member, ask what help and resources they are receiving to address issues concerning ending genocide.

  • Would the university adopt a formal policy of using its investments to help end genocide?

Ask your university to join the growing “No Business With Genocide” campaign. International Campaign for the Rohingya is working with a growing coalition of investors and NGOs. We are ready to work with you and your university to develop policies and practices that help end the genocide of the Rohingya.

  • How can students and faculty influence the university’s investment policies and practices?

Some universities, such as Harvard, have an advisory committee on shareholder responsibility that helps develop policies and practices. Ask to participate.

If your university lacks such an avenue to influence its investments, launch a campaign to pass a resolution in your student government, faculty council, and/or board of trustees. Develop petitions and hold rallies. Meet with your university administration. Use every pressure point to persuade your university to step up and help end genocide.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition publishes how-to guides  for students and faculty on university endowmentsdivestment, and shareholder advocacy. Read them to prepare yourselves on how to best influence your university to help end genocide.

 

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