Late last week, student and faculty activists renewed their campaign for divestment from the Sudan, pushing Yale officials to sever all ties with corporations that claim holdings there. Such investments, the divestment campaign argues, would offer direct financial support for government-sponsored genocide in the nation’s Darfur region. In addition to the members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, a Yale College Council resolution has now formally asked the Yale Corporation to investigate allegations of corporate connections to Sudan among the University’s investment partners and to lean on those found guilty of such associations.
We laud those committed to divestment from companies that support such a brutal, repressive regime, although no conclusive link between Yale’s current investments and the Sudan has been established. This lack of real knowledge about the issue as it affects Yale — on all parts except those of the investment managers and the Corporation itself — means that it is up to the University to set the terms of the debate. And while we understand the financial concerns that keep Yale’s investment portfolio a secret, we believe precedent suggests that University officials should address the concerns regarding Sudanese ties to the extent that they can. That said, concerned activists should be ready to approach such a dialogue with an understanding of its limitations.
Throughout their campaign for divestment from Sudan-related holdings, STAND and the YCC have thus far been wise enough to focus on that specific policy concern rather than becoming embroiled in a typically unproductive debate regarding the merits of investment disclosure. The frustrations of such a debate have been long enumerated in other corners: the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, the only link to University investments that makes annual public appearances, does not itself have direct knowledge of the investment portfolio. The ACIR can recommend policy changes — and, with the help of the Law School’s Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic, is currently assessing multinational corporations with alleged Sudanese ties — but it cannot dictate reform; only the Yale Corporation’s own investor responsibility committee can mandate divestment from a questionable interest.
This is not to say that Yale’s investment managers are deliberately pursuing gains from ethically questionable sources, but the case of Talisman Energy, a Canadian corporation with a 25 percent stake in Sudan’s largest oil concession, suggests that the University’s track record is not entirely spotless. Although Yale officials have said that Talisman has divested from that interest and its alleged “scorched-earth policy,” outlined in a 2002 report from the U.S. State Department, this case illustrates the need for as yet unheard dialogue on the issue.
While we are not suggesting that the Yale Corporation or the Investments Office post the contents of their hard drives online, the Corporation should not have to wait for the ACIR report to take a stand on investments in the Sudan. Yale has the resources to amply research its investment partners, and should firmly deny even proxy investments in the region, publicly as well as privately. For their part, concerned members of the Yale community remain a valuable check on the system, and should not leave analysis solely to other hands, even the capable ones at Lowenstein. Yale has been a leader on ethical investing since the era of apartheid, and the need for such leadership has only grown more acute.