Harvard puts Romanian timberland up for sale

The Harvard Crimson reported last night that Scolopax SRL put 32,000 hectares of Romanian timberland up for sale following last week’s bribery case. This accounts for nearly all of Scolopax’s holdings.

According to the Crimson story,

The documents advertising the sale were posted in Romanian provinces two days after Dragos Lipan Secu, a former contractor for a University subsidiary, was arrested on charges of bribery and money laundering.

Scolopax, a Romanian company owned by Phemus Corporation, a subsidiary of the Harvard Management Company, posted the fliers at the end of January in 21 Romanian provinces.

Here is our statement in response:

When students and alumni join together and demand accountability for Harvard’s out-of-control companies, we do make a difference. But selling the assets of every company in the news is not a solution. Harvard should implement responsible ownership policies at once to prevent future mismanagement and mistakes like Scolopax.

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Trusting Harvard: The Cost of Unprincipled Investing

Our Board of Advisers member Bob Monks has coauthored a book with writer Marcy Murninghan entitled Trusting Harvard: The Cost of Unprincipled Investing. The two Harvard alums share a great deal of knowledge about institutional investment strategies and Harvard’s role in socially responsible investment. The book is available from Amazon.com!

The blurb reads as follows: 

For decades, Robert Monks has promoted a simple idea: that property owners—even if the property is a share of corporate equity, or pile of funds to invest—have a civic moral responsibility for their holdings. At minimum, their obligation is to assure that no laws have been broken, no damage to others inflicted. More broadly, property owners have an obligation for active engagement, to assure positive performance and ethical integrity. That’s a form of citizenship that’s good for democracy, as well as capital markets. And it views “capital” holistically, connecting the stock and flow of financial, environmental, social, human, and other forms of capital because that’s how the real economy works. 

These concepts of “stewardship”, “ethics”, “capital”, and “citizenship” are the pillars undergirding Trusting Harvard. In it, on the occasion of his 80th birthday and upcoming 60th Harvard reunion, Monks once again makes his argument to a Harvard President. Along with co-author Marcy Murninghan, he provides a framework for answering two questions: How can Harvard fulfill its fiduciary obligation as an investor in ways that advance its beliefs, values and commitments? How can Harvard take the lead in creating a curriculum for students, professionals, and the general public about the civic moral obligations of wealth? While aimed at Harvard, the issues covered are relevant to other universities and tax-exempt institutional investors, because they have a special duty to advance the public interest. In addition to fiduciary and curricular frameworks—the “myopic”, “ethical”, and “integrated” fiduciary; a tiered approach to gaining fiduciary knowledge and competence—a series of questions for trustees to ask are included. The result is a call to action to restore the social compact affecting universities and other public fiduciaries. That means moving away from a “house divided”, wherein fiduciary and program responsibilities reside in separate wings, to one wherein they are inextricably linked. And that’s good for everybody. 

Announcing the SHAME tour of Harvard

SHAME stands for Stop Harvard’s Argentine Mismanagement & Exploitation (clever, right?) but it’s also how Harvard administrators are going to feel when confronted by the stories of those who are most affected by their irresponsible investments.

Last semester, we sent letters, signed petitions, and demonstrated outside in the rain and cold. We even published an investigative report and produced a mini-documentary. But Harvard President Drew Faust has refused to enact responsible ownership policies, ignoring the requests of people who suffer every day from Harvard-owned plantations.

We don’t think she can ignore community leaders who travel 4,884 miles to defend their way of life. It’s one thing to read about Harvard’s out-of-control companies halfway around the world, but it’s another thing to hear about them from the people who suffer the consequences.

We’ve estimated that it will cost $4,000 for visa fees and international airfare, and we want to buy tickets by February 19th. Please help donate now so we can bring Harvard’s neighbors in Argentina to Harvard Yard this spring!

Undergraduate Council endorses Responsible Ownership Policy

At last night’s Undergraduate Council meeting, undergraduate representatives passed legislation entitled “The Responsible Ownership Policy Endorsement Act.” Put forward by freshman reps  Riya Patel and Giora Ashkenazi, the legislation was co-sponsored by 17 other representatives, including UC Vice-President Sietse Goffard. An excerpt of the legislation reads: 

… Whereas in Argentina, Harvard-owned timber plantations are degrading the Iberá Wetlands ecosystem, expanding into protected wetland areas and surrounding communities, creating public health problems, damaging public roads, ignoring legally required employment practices and endangering thousands of farmers in the region;

 

Whereas residents of the communities affected by Harvard’s plantations in Argentina sent a letter to President Faust on December 5th, 2013 expressing their concern that even after two months, the administration still hasn’t responded to the RI@H Coalition’s report documenting the impacts that Harvard’s companies have in their communities nor to the community’s request to halt the environmental and human rights abuses and comply with legal employment practices, and expressing their desire to work with Harvard to satisfy both party’s needs rather than face intimidation and scare tactics aimed at quieting the protests;

 

Whereas President Faust has so far only responded by proxy and inadequately to this letter from the communities in Argentina;

 

Whereas President Faust has articulated a clear case for responsible investment, yet offers no evidence that Harvard actually engages its investments in this way, and instead the administration has demonstrated a lack of awareness and knowledge about its investments;

 

Be it therefore resolved that the Harvard Undergraduate Council officially endorse RI@H’s efforts to encourage Harvard University and Harvard Management Company’s adoption and application of the proposed policy to guide Harvard’s investment practices by February 12, 2014…