Proposed Student Government resolution urges divestment from companies that aid genocide / by Tess Cagle

Genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur has claimed the lives of 400,000 Sudanese. For Ali Breland, Plan II senior at the University of Texas and president of Texans Against Genocide, that is 400,000 reasons why the UT system should divest from companies involved in genocide.

Upon learning that University of Texas Investment Company, UTIMCO, has invested more than $12 million into companies that Breland contends indirectly fund genocide in Sudan, Breland wrote a resolution urging the Board of Regents to create a blacklist of companies that UTIMCO should not invest in. He presented the resolution, AR 24, to UT’s Student Government on Oct. 28, and it was sent to committee. 

Breland said he first learned about what he calls UT’s “dirty investments” in 2005 when he watched Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador the United Nations, give a lecture to students at the University of Chicago.

“She was wearing a pin that said ‘my university supports genocide’ because the kids at Chicago gave those out since Chicago is dealing with the same problems,” Breland said. “I read more about it online and I noticed UT’s name wasn’t coming up. I used UTIMCO’s website to find UT’s investments and then I found the blacklist of all the companies and I found huge crossings between the two of them – more than I think is ethical.”

Breland compared UTIMCO’s investment securities in 2013 to Iowa’s Sudan Prohibited companies list and found that UTIMCO invested $12,249,064 into companies that benefit Sudan’s economy. According to Ethical Consumer, a not-for-profit magazine that publishes information on ethical consumerism, Sudan’s economic gains, primarily due to oil, have disproportionately benefitted the elite and the military, rather than the majority of the population. Ethical Consumer said that organizations urging divestment hope that by doing so it will place pressure on the Sudanese government to change how they treat the general population.

Companies on Iowa’s list include PetroChina, which was reported to have funded genocide in Sudan by Fortune Magazine in 2007, and  Dongfeng Motor Co., a company Breland contends has sold military equipment to Sudanese militias. 

Out of UT’s $2 billion investments in public markets, only one half a percent of the investment portfolio aids genocide. Julie Irwin, a professor at McCombs School of Business who teaches a class about social and ethical responsibilities of businesses, said that is enough to matter.

Everything you do matters because everything you do is a communication of your brand,” Irwin said. “I mean, the tagline of UT is “what starts here changes the world” right? You’re evoking all kinds of lofty ideals there. The minute people hear that you’re investing in these companies, and you don’t even need to be because it’s not that much of your investment portfolio, it undercuts everything you say.”

AR 24 has three main requests:

  • That the Board of Regents create a blacklist of companies UTIMCO cannot invest in that is more thorough than the Texas Comptroller’s list.
  • That the Regents establish policies that prevent UTIMCo from investing in blacklisted companies that perpetuate genocide in Sudan.
  • That the Regents additionally set policies that bar UTIMCO from having equity in companies that help perpetuate genocide at any point in the future.

Breland said that although AR 24 is not the first Student Government resolution to try to stop investments in genocide, it may be the most promising.

“This one is written with less polemic language and with I think more reasonable aims,” Breland said. “The base of the solution is to give the Regents different ways to come up with a more comprehensive plan on divestment from companies that want to support genocide. These are really powerful people who don’t want to hear from kids like me. I think respecting that was an important part of it.”

Breland said that while the resolution has not received any opposition from student government representatives, Bruce Zimmerman, the chief executive officer and chief investment officer of UTIMCO, has made it clear in the past that he does not believe UTIMCO should take social or political concerns into account.

Zimmerman told the Texas Observer in 2011 that UTIMCO’s mission is to “provide resources for the UT system to promote learning and teaching” – not worry about social responsibilities.

If the Regents force a change, UT would not be the first university to divest from companies that fuel genocide. In 2006, the New York Times reported that at least seven universities had gotten rid of some of their assets over ethical concerns, including the University of California system, HarvardYale, Stanford and Brown.

Tanner Long, Liberal Arts Student Government representative, said he believes the resolution will pass through the assembly with ease.

I’ve spoken with a few of the Student Government representatives and I have yet to come across someone opposed to AR 24,” Long said. “I hope this resolution, which if passed will be the official view of the majority of the student body, will encourage The University of Texas to divest from specific corporations that have a direct contribution to genocide.”

Student Government will vote on AR 24 at it’s general meeting on Nov. 11.