This post was originally published in The Harvard Crimson on May 17, 2013
By KEVIN S. WANG, ALEXI WHITE, and CAROLINE T. ZHANG
Harvard University owns companies around the world and is a controlling stakeholder—that is, a majority shareholder, majority owner, or full owner—of over 100 companies. As a center of higher education and a leader of the community, Harvard holds itself to principles of environmental sustainability, non-discrimination, and labor rights. Its pledges to reduce emissions and to pay its workers a living wage are just a few examples. Our commitment to transparency, fairness, sustainability, and human dignity should not end at Harvard’s gates. Harvard must be a responsible owner of all its investments, particularly of the companies in which it owns a controlling stake. It has special ability, and special responsibility, to work with these companies to improve their practices.
There are numerous inconsistencies between Harvard’s policies on campus and those of its companies. Last year, food service workers at Harvard Law School asked the University for a fair process to unionize. Harvard agreed, remaining neutral in their unionization process and respecting the majority of workers’ request to form a union. However, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Allston, also owned—but not managed—by Harvard, workers have not been granted a fair process to create and join a union without intimidation or interference from managers, despite repeated requests. In fact, workers at the DoubleTree even filed suit with the National Labor Relations Board in April 2013, alleging that management illegally interfered with their unionization process. Why should the workers at a hotel directly owned by Harvard be treated any differently than workers on this campus?
Harvard directly owns at least 11 companies in Chile. One, Agrícola Brinzal, is currently being sued by CONAF, the National Forestry Corporation of the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile, for multiple violations of Chilean law against deforestation. Another Chilean company owned by Harvard, Agrícola Duramen Limitada, was fined by Chilean courts for similar activity. A company owned entirely by Harvard should not be engaging in alleged illegal logging practices.
As members of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, we ask that Harvard University and Harvard Management Company be responsible owners with all funds and companies in which it holds a controlling stake—that is, in which it is a majority shareholder, majority owner, or full owner. We demand that Harvard act to ensure that the policies of these companies comply with basic standards of responsibility.
First, Harvard’s companies must comply with all local, national, and international laws and treaties in all areas where the company is operating, whether or not these laws are rigorously enforced by local authorities.
Second, Harvard must ensure that its companies are acting as sustainably as possible, as Harvard has committed to do on campus. The University’s website states, “Harvard University believes universities have an accountability to the future—a special role and a special responsibility to address global challenges as large as climate change and environmental sustainability.” Harvard’s Sustainability Principles note, “The University has an affirmative record of responsible compliance with environmental and safety regulations and a proven effective system of environmental management accountability.” Harvard’s companies should embody these principles too.
Third, Harvard’s companies must recognize workers’ right to collective bargaining and union representation, as well as promise neutrality and a fair process for unionization, even if these rights are not enshrined in local legislation. They must also guarantee parity in wages and benefits between directly hired and sub-contracted employees.
Fourth, Harvard’s companies must respect land rights, including the rights of small farmers and indigenous people. They must not infringe on any legitimate land tenure rights, including where such rights are not formally recorded, and they must seek to prevent all violent conflict over land tenure rights.
Fifth, Harvard’s companies must adhere to Harvard’s hiring and employment policies. The University’s own published non-discrimination policy states that “Any form of discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, veteran status, or disability unrelated to course requirements is contrary to the, principles and policies of Harvard University.” The same policy must apply for all of Harvard’s companies.
Finally, Harvard’s companies must be transparent and accountable. They must produce and publish online annual reports disclosing all political contributions, lobbying activities, the position and compensation of the top 10 highest-compensated employees, and conflicts of interest.
We have laid out these principles—and a way for Harvard to enforce and remain accountable for them—on the website of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition. We demand that Harvard become a responsible owner now, by working toward a fair unionization process for the workers at the DoubleTree, by rectifying any alleged illegal deforestation in Chile, and by adopting our proposed Standards for Responsible Ownership for all of its companies.
Harvard’s companies should not be harming the environment, their workers, or the world. Harvard has the ability to bring about change in the companies it controls, and the moral obligation to do so.
Kevin S. Wang ’16 lives in Stoughton Hall. Alexi White, MPP ’13, is a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. Caroline T. Zhang ’16, a Crimson news writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.