Divestment is taking social responsibility for one’s financial investments. When we invest money in corporations that engage in or profit from human rights abuses, unethical labor practices, and environmental destruction, we are both enabling and supporting those crimes. As stakeholders, we are complicit.
By dis-investing, or divesting, from such companies, we take a stance against unethical practices. We send a message to lawbreakers and human rights abusers that their unethical practices will not be tolerated and will not be supported. Divestment punishes unethical corporate profiteering and forces corporations to become more accountable for their actions.
The great thing about tactics such as divestment and boycott is that everyone can participate!
There are many ways to promote social change. We can and should make appeals and demands to governments, but it is not the only avenue. Another way to work toward social change is to target corporations that engage in unethical practices or that provide material support for governments that engage in unethical practices.
Many people have connections to corporations, either as consumers or as participants in institutions with corporate investments. Through those connections, we can hold corporations accountable by wielding the one thing that corporations respond to: money power.
No way! Perhaps the most well-known popular divestment campaign is the divestment movement against South African apartheid. Other divestment campaigns have focused on Sudanese complicity in the Darfur crisis and human rights abuses in Burma. Many of these campaigns originated on college campuses around the country.
Because Evergreen is a state-funded college, the Evergreen State College Foundation was established to receive private donations on behalf of the college. The money collected by the foundation is then invested in markets to increase the value of the funds.
But here’s the curious part: The Evergren Foundation does not know what it invests in! Moreover, the foundation does not appear interested in knowing in what it invests in.
What could the Evergreen Foundation be invested in? Human rights abuses? War crimes? Atrocious labor practices? Environmental destruction? We don’t know!
Exactly! Many colleges and universities have socially responsible investment policies that guide how these institutions invest, which considers a corporation’s ethical track record to determine whether it is a candidate for investment. The Evergreen Foundation currently lacks a socially responsible investment policy.
The movement to make the Evergreen Foundation accountable has gone on for at least seven years. For many years, concerned students have procured paperwork, attempted to find the foundation’s investment holdings, talked to college administration officials, and have even presented before the foundation’s Board of Governors.
This has not resulted in a change of policy. It’s time we put it up to a student vote.
Instituting a socially responsible investment policy would serve the needs of many social justice groups. At the same time, we want to make sure that such a policy addresses corporations that profit from the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. This is conducted in light of the international movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, requested by 200 Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005, and endorsed by prominent activists such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Arundhati Roy.