Popular Argentine news outlet, Clarín, covers RI’s report and rally

The report that we and The Oakland Institute released last week is making waves across Argentina. Several news outlets have published stories, including the one below in the Argentine publication, Clarín. (Please follow the link for the original article in Spanish.) At the time of this blog post, the article already has 115 comments, 1400 Facebook likes and 140 Tweets! Please keep scroll down to read the entire article translated into English.

Harvard owns 80 thousand hectares of land in Argentina and students are accusing the university of causing environmental damage in the Iberá Wetlands

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition organized a rally last Friday to deliver a letter signed by seven local community organizations to Harvard University President Drew Faust

Written by Gonzalo Sánchez (Clarin)

Translated by Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition

A report released last week reveals that Harvard University owns 87,884 hectares of land in the heart of one of the world’s largest freshwater bodies: the Iberá Wetlands in Corrientes, Argentina. The lands contain industrial pine and eucalyptus plantations managed by Las Misiones and EVASA, two Harvard-owned corporations.

Harvard finances its world-class educational programs from profits generated from these timber sales. According to official records, the American university also invests in natural resources in other parts of the world. This is the local story of a troubling foreign landowner.

Last week in Boston, a group of students, professors and alumni released a report documenting the environmental damage caused by these investments in Corrientes. The study says that Harvard has expanded the plantations within the Natural Reserve of Iberá into protected areas, including areas that interfere with local land use. 

According to residents and scientists cited in the study, the plantations have reduced biodiversity by changing birds’ migratory patterns, destroying plant life, and damaging the local ecosystem, since the trees absorb huge amounts of water.

According to the study, residents are also worried about long-term soil damage and reduced access to drinking water. Residents in San Miguel and Chavarria said that they have had to deepen their water wells by several meters because they became dry at previous levels. The report also highlights the damage caused to local roads by trucks carrying timber away from the plantations.

“Harvard is trying to make record profits in Corrientes by taking advantage of favorable climatic conditions, a legal framework that grants tax benefits to foreign investors, and an attractive image of corporate responsibility,” said Sam Wohns, one of the students who conducted field research.    

“We have long been concerned about the university’s lack of transparent investment policies, and now we have evidence that these policies are insufficient,” adds Wohns. “I was shocked by the working conditions of the employees. The companies claim to have responsible practices, but the workers I spoke with said that it’s unsafe to work on the plantations.”

Wohns continued: “Most of the plantations are within the wetlands. According to the companies’ own documents, they should be respecting buffer zones and wildlife corridors. Our aerial photographs, however, show that they have planted on top of lakes and streams, drying up a precious natural resource.”

Wohns is in his fourth year at Harvard College, where he studies political economy. He is also a member of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, a group that works to hold Harvard accountable for its investment decisions abroad. The Coalition released the report about Harvard’s investments with The Oakland Institute.

The Harvard Management Company (HMC) manages Harvard’s $32 billion USD endowment, which has heavily invested in natural resources in recent years. HMC invests all over the world, including in the Cayman Islands, in New Zealand, and in most countries in South America.

HMC purchased EVASA and Las Misiones for $55.2 million USD. The Perez Companc family owned Las Misiones until 2002, when it was bought by Douglas Tompkins, an American who has been repeatedly criticized by locals for limiting their access to water. In 2007, Tompkins sold EVASA to an investment fund in which Harvard was invested. Now the university owns 100% of the companies. Las Misiones owns lands that Harvard needed in order to obtain tax benefits offered by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Clarin contacted Harvard about the allegations included in the report. Kevin Galvin, a university spokesperson, said: “These projects are within areas approved for commercial activities and have been managed diligently to minimize impact on the wetlands. Both sites are operating with the full support of the local authorities. EVASA has obtained important quality certifications and Las Misiones is expected to obtain them soon.”

Galvin’s comments are inconsistent with the findings of the recently released report. 

Press Release – Rally for Justice at Harvard’s Timber Plantations

Released Friday, October 18th:

Students Rally to Demand Justice at Harvard’s Timber Plantations

Protest responds to reports of controversial environmental and social practices at Harvard-owned timber companies in Argentina

Cambridge, MA–Earlier today, 40 students rallied in Harvard Yard against the expansion of the university’s timber plantations in the world’s second largest wetlands region, the Iberá Wetlands of northern Argentina.

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During the rally, students delivered a letter addressed to President Faust that was written by farmers whose lives have been threatened by Harvard-owned plantations. The letter demanded that Harvard halt the expansion of its timber plantations in the region, and that the university address community concerns regarding the timber plantations.

“President Faust is accountable for the conduct of this university, and these plantations are no exception,” said Gabriel Bayard, a Harvard junior who has visited the plantations in Argentina. “The blatant disregard for Harvard values is shocking. I hope that she halts the expansion of these plantations immediately.”

The rally and letter delivery arose in response to the recent release of a report by the Oakland Institute and the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition which documented the damaging effects of Harvard-owned companies on ecosystems and local communities in Argentina.

 

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RI@H Coalition Responds to Harvard’s Statement About New Report on Plantations in Argentina

In response to Harvard’s statement about its timber plantations in Corrientes, Argentina:

Harvard has failed to address the serious allegations raised in a report released this week by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and the Oakland Institute. The communities harmed by Harvard’s large-scale timber plantations in the Iberá Wetlands of Argentina are not asking for Harvard to simply check the right boxes – they’re asking that Harvard stop expanding the plantations, abide by local laws, and respect their way of life.

As a global leader, Harvard has a responsibility to ensure that its investments align with its values.  In divesting from apartheid South Africa and from Sudan – after strident student and alumni protest – Harvard showed its commitment to those values. Harvard’s lack of response to multiple fines levied against its Chilean timber plantation, however, casts doubt on the sincerity of Harvard’s desire to respect local communities, even in the face of legal action. The same is true of Harvard’s business practices in Corrientes.

Community leaders from Corrientes and members of the Harvard community are calling on Harvard University to respect the residents and environment of Corrientes just as it respects those of Cambridge.

On Friday, October 18th at 3pm, RI@Harvard will deliver a letter from community leaders of Corrientes to President Faust. Details here.

Please join us on the steps of Widener Library to demand that Harvard stop subsidizing its wealth at the expense of poor communities.

Breaking – Harvard’s Irresponsible Investment in Argentina

UPDATE (1:15 PM)Bloomberg has covered the release of our report! To read the article, please follow this link.

UPDATE (11:05 AM)Click here to read a press release by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and the Oakland Institute.

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A report released this morning by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and the Oakland Institute reveals that two Harvard-owned industrial timber plantations in Corrientes, Argentina are degrading the Iberá Wetlands ecosystem and endangering thousands of farmers in the region.

The report’s findings contradict recent statements by Harvard University President Drew Faust, who wrote of Harvard’s “commitment to sustainable investment” in an October 3rd letter regarding the university’s controversial investment practices.

“When I saw how the plantations have invaded the wetlands, I felt sick to my stomach,” said Sam Wohns, the report’s author and a member of RI@Harvard. “As a Harvard student, I shouldn’t be benefiting from environmental destruction halfway across the world.”

Read the full report here.

A report from the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and the Oakland Institute reveals businesses owned by Harvard are exploiting a community in Argentina.

View a short video about Harvard’s companies in Corrientes.

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, in conjunction with affected communities, is implementing a coordinated campaign to expose Harvard’s irresponsible practices and to force the university to stop subsidizing its wealth at the expense of poor communities.

We need your help to amplify our voice. First, pledge to support responsible investment at Harvard. Second, please join us Friday, October 18th at 3pm as we march to President Faust’s office in Cambridge, Massachusetts to deliver a letter from community leaders in Corrientes, Argentina. More information here.

Coalition Obtains Information that Pokes Holes in Faust’s Argument

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition has obtained information detailing the pernicious business practices of a Harvard-owned foreign subsidiary. This information describes the environmental, economic, and social costs that Harvard’s irresponsible investment imposes on low-income communities.

This new information contradicts a letter from Harvard University President Drew Faust last week that states the Harvard endowment “fulfills a university’s distinctive responsibilities to society.”

Harvard University has a history of investments that seek financial returns at the expense of poor communities. In 2011, the University announced – under mounting public pressure –  that it would not invest in Emergent Asset Management, a firm linked to large-scale land grabs in Africa. In 2012, the Harvard Management Corporation, which oversees Harvard’s $32 billion endowment, declined to reinvest in HEI Hotels following outcry over labor rights violations. In 2012 and again this past summer, Chilean courts fined a Harvard-owned company for environmental violations.

Over the past year, the administration has made progress to ensure the sustainability of its investments. However, the Coalition has documentation that these steps are profoundly insufficient and that immediate action must be taken to review and redress ongoing hazards to communities and the environment.

RI@H Responds to Faust’s Divestment Letter

In her recent letter dismissing fossil fuel divestment, President Faust instead articulates a clear case for responsible investment, the same case our Coalition has been making to Harvard for several years.

Faust writes that “we should think about how we might use our voice” to promote responsibility. We couldn’t agree more: Harvard must engage companies and asset managers to address risks and abuses. But President Faust offers no evidence that Harvard actually engages its investments in this way.

Faust argues against fossil fuel divestment because, as she wrote, “as shareholders, I believe we should favor engagement over withdrawal.” Yet Harvard has a poor history of engaging substantially with the responsible practices of companies that it owns shares in–and even of companies that it owns fully.

A letter dated August 6 from President Faust to the Coalition shows how out of touch the Harvard administration is with its investments. Timber plantations that Harvard fully owns in Chile have repeatedly been sued for violating environmental laws. Faust wrote that the University was “confident” the courts would find that Harvard’s timber plantation company, Agricola Brinzal, “has acted in compliance with the law.” In reality, the company had already been found guilty in court for violating its environmental commitments.

This Coalition has publicized – and will continue to publicize – the outrage of communities negatively impacted by Harvard’s current investment practices.

Responsible investing requires clear standards, transparency, and accountability to stakeholders who include students, staff, alumni and communities where Harvard’s investments operate.

If Harvard is making any effort to this end, it is falling short. We ask that Harvard adhere to the standards of transparency and engagement that President Faust herself extolls.