A student group believes Yale’s endowment investments may be linked to violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At a Thursday meeting with the University’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), the student organization Accountability and Corporate Transparency for Congo requested that Yale take action regarding its investments in electronics companies allegedly involved in the mineral trade in the Congo, which fuels militias in the country. Members of A.C.T. for Congo described a complex system in which the sale of minerals mined in Congo help fund the factions that are largely responsible for the three wars and other conflicts that have wracked the country for the past fifteen years.
“We think this is a case of grave social injury,” said Jason Stearns GRD ’15, former Coordinator of the United Nations Panel of Experts on the Congo. “Profits from the mineral trade probably constitute twenty to forty percent of financing for these armed groups.”
ACIR is responsible for ensuring Yale’s endowment assets are invested ethically, and for making recommendations to the Yale Corporation, Yale’s highest governing body, regarding the University’s investments. Chair of the ACIR and Yale Law School professor Jonathan Macey, who oversaw the meeting, could not be reached for comment Friday.
The appeal took place at the advisory committee’s annual open forum, which was attended by several student groups including A.C.T. for Congo, the Responsible Endowment Project and the Undergraduate Organizing Committee.
The ACIR has yet to decide what course of action it will take regarding Yale’s investments in companies possibly linked to conflict in Congo.
Stearns said an estimated 5.4 million people have died since 1998 because of the violence. Some of the electronics companies that rely on the minerals in question have begun to come under scrutiny for their possible involvement in fueling conflict, the group said. The United State Congress passed a bill in July of 2010 requiring companies to take steps to ensure these minerals are not entering their products.
But the representatives of A.C.T. for Congo expressed their concerns regarding the limits of the bill and suggested a course of action Yale could take to monitor its own investments, adding that other universities including Stanford have already taken such steps. The group recommended that Yale write letters to electronics companies in which it invests to inquire about their practices, take shareholder action to control the companies’ behavior, and, if necessary, divest.
“Yale is uniquely positioned to take resolute action on this issue,” said A.C.T. for Congo member Julia Spiegel LAW ’13.
Representatives of the Yale Undergraduate Organizing Committee and the Yale Responsible Endowment Project also gave presentations at the meeting. The UOC reiterated its concerns about Yale’s investments in HEI Hotels & Resorts, a company accused of mistreating its workers.
After the meeting, Benjamin Daus-Haberle ’12, undergraduate representative on the ACIR, emphasized the importance of student input to the committee.
But James Ceronsky ’11, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee present at the meeting, said he appreciated the open forum, but expressed concern that members of the advisory committee may not have recognized the significance of the student groups’ appeals.
“It’s important to me that not only do people on this board take the reports seriously, but take steps to act on them,” Ceronsky said.
Yale’s endowment is controlled by the Yale Investment Office, which is overseen by the Yale Corporation.