Sudan Divestment Movement Gains Momentum
February 28, 2007
Members of the House of Representatives don’t get much more liberal than California Rep. Barbara Lee. As the sole vote against the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, Lee, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has maintained a consistent anti-war stance, and is known for fighting to protect free speech and end environmental racism.
On the other hand, members of the Senate don’t get much more conservative than Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. A solid supporter of both the PATRIOT Act and the war in Iraq, Brownback recently joined the 2008 race for the presidency, wooing supporters by emphasizing his efforts to amend the Constitution against gay marriage and to restrict embryonic stem cell research.
In these divided and partisan times in America, could anything make these political opposites see eye to eye?
The answer is yes: genocide in Africa.
In December, the common ground between Brownback and Lee was on display for all to see, as they were jointly honored by the Africa Society of Washington, DC for their commitment to progress on the African continent. At the event, each presented a vision of peace and prosperity for Africa, and each emphasized a powerful economic strategy for dealing with genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.
Both Lee and Brownback are staunch advocates of divestment – an economic strategy for pulling investments out of Sudan and thereby pressuring the government to stop the violence in Darfur.
Since 2003, the Sudanese government has joined with Arab militias to pursue rebel groups in Darfur, at the expense of the civilian population. At least 400,000 people have been killed, and nearly 2.5 million have been displaced and remain at risk of disease, starvation, rape, and murder.
A divestment campaign expresses strong disapproval of the government’s actions, the equivalent of economic sanctions brokered by investors themselves, depriving the government of profits (largely derived from huge oil companies doing business in Sudan) that can no longer be used to fund the genocide.
Divestment as a strategy for social change is not new. In the 1980s, a massive divestment campaign aimed at South Africa was largely credited for persuading the government to end the apartheid regime there. It’s this model that Lee and Brownback embrace as a strategy for dealing with Darfur, and together they represent two parts of the divestment approach: the institutional and the individual.
Lee represents the institutional approach. As a sponsor of the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act of 2006, Lee proposes banning the US government from investing in or contracting with companies that do business in Sudan. She’s following an approach that’s already been implemented at the state level in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, and Oregon. Twenty-two more states are pursuing state-level divestment this year, with the Colorado House voting on February 13 to divest the state’s holdings in Sudan.
But institutional divestment isn’t just for governments. In April 2005, Harvard University sold its shares of PetroChina, a leading producer of oil in the Sudan, and since then dozens of other universities have followed suit.
The Sudan Divestment Task Force tracks the divestment campaigns and offers resources for those wishing to start new ones.
The Task Force uses "targeted divestment" strategy, which means they do not advocate for divestment from all companies operating in Sudan, only those whose revenue benefits the government. This strategy also advocates "engagement," or dialogue with companies to shift their operations toward those that benefit the people of Sudan and not the government. To check the status of a state or university, or to take steps to begin an institutional divestment campaign, the Task Force offers resources at www.sudandivestment.org.
Meanwhile, Sen. Brownback represents the individual approach to divestment. Brownback publicly announced in November that his family would divest any of their holdings found to be involved with the Sudan. The Brownbacks investigated their mutual fund holdings and found six funds whose investments included Sclumberger Ltd., a French oil services company active in Sudan, as well as two mutual funds with investments in PetroChina.
To take personal divestment action, individual investors can adopt a number of strategies. A financial planner can help determine which investments are free from involvement in Sudan, the Sudan Divestment Task Force can provide a list of companies targeted for investment, and the Invested Interests Web site offers a program that can tell what mutual funds have involvement in Sudan.
With individual investors, state governments, universities, and even members of the US Congress working together, we can begin to end the violence in Darfur.
[photo credit: Ruth Messinger/
American Jewish World Service]
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