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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Sudan divestment Initiative: Kristof: Death by Dollars

Those who insist on divesting, should consider the most urgent cases first. The Sudan divestment initiative might be the only path left to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. International organizations, Human Rights Groups and others have been powerless to stop the monumental slaughter in Sudan, which has been protected by China and the Arab League. It is interesting that Fidelity Mutual Funds are heavily invested in Sudan. Guess who runs those?
The New York Times
February 11, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist
Death by Dollars
So is your Fidelity account underwriting genocide in Sudan? Is your pension fund helping finance the janjaweed militias that throw babies into bonfires in Darfur and Chad?

The answer to both questions is complicated but may be yes, and that's one reason a divestment campaign is gaining strength around America and abroad. Six states (including California) have already begun divesting from companies active in Sudan, and legislation is pending in 23 more states, including New York.

More than 30 universities, beginning with Harvard in 2005, have sold certain Sudan-related investments. Five cities have divested, and New York is considering doing so. A bill before Congress would bar certain companies active in Sudan from receiving federalcontracts.

Let's start by acknowledging that divestment and economic sanctions generally fail. 
But Sudan is an exception, a rare instance where narrowly focused divestment makes practical as well as moral sense.

Partly that's because Sudan's economy depends on foreign oil companies, giving the outside world leverage. And 70 percent of Sudan's oil revenue goes to weaponry, like bayonets used to gouge out people's eyes.

The oil companies in Sudan aren't American; the biggest players are Chinese companies. Pressure on them is also one way to get the attention of the Chinese government, which is Sudan's main protector in the U.N. Security Council.

So in this case pressure on a small number of foreign companies could help get Sudan's attention, and that of its protectors in China, without hurting ordinary people...
Fortunately, the Darfur divestment campaign has been remarkably restrained in choosing targets. Organizers are not seeking divestment from all of the more than 400 foreign companies that operate in Sudan, but only from a few dozen that are complicit in genocide without helping ordinary Sudanese. (See the guidelines at , developed largely by a recent U.C.L.A. graduate, Adam Sterling.)
More than other money managers, Fidelity has resisted the pressure and clung firmly to Sudan-related investments. So Darfur campaigners are urging investors to avoid Fidelity mutual funds: more information is at .

The biggest U.S. investor in Class H shares of PetroChina, a Chinese oil concern whose parent company is active in Sudan, is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway... [S]urely if Berkshire Hathaway and Fidelity mutual funds saw lucrative opportunities in selling bayonets to the janjaweed, they would balk at that.

It's not a sure thing. But remember that in Darfur and Chad, aid workers — some of them Americans — are being killed, raped and beaten as they try to alleviate the slaughter. So shouldn't we make the minimal sacrifice of divestment, rather than blithely continue to invest in ways that provide grenades and guns to kill aid workers and Darfuris alike?

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