Letter to President Faust from Department of San Miguel

Corrientes Capital, December 5, 2013

Dear Harvard University President Drew Faust:

We write to you on behalf of the communities affected by your plantations in the Department of San Miguel.

We want to point out that it has been almost two months since the Oakland Institute and the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition released a report documenting the impacts that your companies generate in our communities.

At that same time, a group of students who are in solidarity with our struggle delivered to you a letter with three main points:

  • The request to stop expanding your plantations until you have completed an environmental and social impact study. This study should be cumulative, cooperative and inclusive of damages that have already been generated.

  • That timber plantations be moved immediately to a minimum distance of 2000 meters from our communities.

  • That you comply with all legally required employment practices for your workers in Corrientes.

But instead of siting down to discuss our demands and find a solution to this conflict, your companies have resorted to intimidation and scare tactics.

Mrs. Drew Faust, we have no idea how you resolve conflicts in the United States. But here, we don’t want your managers to seek us out, one by one, and pressure us in an attempt to make us abandon our struggle. We will not accept the recurrence of mysterious situations, such as being followed on the streets and seeing your company’s vehicles crash into our neighbor’s trucks.

What we want is for you to start an open dialogue with everyone who signed the letter you received almost two months ago.

We are only workers, farmers, citizens, students, and common folk, but we do not eat wood. We are not fools. Your people have met with the the Provincial Government to determine how to deal with this conflict, and there are pictures out in the open to prove it.

If there is no dialogue about how to implement our requests, we will make you personally responsible for any situation where our lands are involved and our physical or moral integrity is in jeopardy. You have been made aware of our situation. It depends on you to bring forth dialogue and disarm the conflict. We are a peaceful people, but we will not be stepped on.

We hope to hear back from you soon.

Residents of the Department of San Miguel, Corrientes Province of Argentina

Press Release: 39 Civil Society Leaders Condemn Harvard University Land Investment Practices

Re-posted from the Croatan Institute~~FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Civil Society Leaders Condemn Harvard University Land Investment Practices:

Open letter to Harvard president demands transparency and responsible investment practices

 Cambridge, MA – April 24th, 2014 – In a letter addressed to Harvard University President Drew Faust, 39 civil society organization leaders express concern about Harvard’s large-scale investments in farmland, plantation forests, and other natural resources across the developing world.

Harvard University’s $32 billion endowment is managed by Harvard Management Company, which has come under criticism for unsustainable management of investments made through wholly-owned, opaque shell companies. Earlier this year, a manager at a Harvard-owned Romanian timber company was arrested for accepting over $1 million in bribes to acquire timberland. Harvard-owned companies have been accused of unsustainable plantation forestry in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, facing lawsuits for destroying native forest and community protests from local farmers’ associations.

“The impact of Harvard’s endowment extends far beyond the gates of Harvard Yard, into communities and ecosystems around the world where the university has secretively acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of land,” noted Joshua Humphreys, president and senior fellow at Croatan Institute.  “With this letter,” he continued, “civil society leaders from across five continents are demanding much greater transparency and accountability for Harvard’s aggressive investments in farmland, forests and natural resources.”

“As leaders of civil society organizations,” said Dan Apfel, Executive Director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, “we are calling upon Harvard, the largest educational endowment in the world, to be a leader in providing a positive model for sustainable and responsible investing in land and across all of their assets.”

The letter states, “Given the lack of transparency of Harvard’s endowment and Harvard Management Company’s deliberate strategy of investing directly in emerging markets using these kinds of surreptitious tactics, we are concerned that these incidents constitute merely the tip of the iceberg.”

Blake McGhghy, a first-year Harvard student in the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, commented on the letter: “As students who benefit directly from Harvard’s endowment, we demand that our education not be funded by exploitation or environmental degradation. This show of solidarity from civil society groups legitimizes our concerns. It is time that Harvard respond with transparency, accountability, and responsible investment.”

Harvard University has invested over $3 billion of its endowment in direct natural resource holdings, including dairies in New Zealand, timber plantations in Argentina, farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, industrial agriculture in the Brazilian cerrado, and vineyards in California.

Two weeks ago, Harvard became the first university endowment in the United States to sign the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment. According to these leaders it is essential that these recent developments are translated into more sustainable and responsible practices in the communities and ecosystems directly impacted by your land investments.

The full text of the letter can be seen here or downloaded as a PDF here.

For more information, contact Josh Humphreys at josh@croataninstitute.org or (910) 292-9590, or Dan Apfel at Dan@endowmentethics.org or (718) 673-8669.

Harvard purchases $60mil+ in California vineyards

As the Crimson reported yesterday, Harvard has purchased around $60 million of vinelands in California through Brodiaea, a fully-owned company.

Harvard Management Company, the in-house management firm that oversees the University’s $32.7 billion endowment, has continued its strategy of investing in natural resources by purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of vineyard land in central California, according to University tax filings and recent reports of purchases in the region.

Brodiaea, a Delaware-based corporation that is entirely owned by the University, paid $10.1 million in February for more than 7,500 acres in Santa Barbara County, according to a report last month by the Farmland Investor Center, a market research firm. David Hamel, an appraiser quoted in the report, estimated that the University, through Brodiaea, has so far paid $61 million for more than 10,000 acres in the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

Kevin Galvin, a spokesperson for the University, confirmed that HMC owns the land described in the reports. Galvin declined to comment on how much was paid for the acres.

HMC’s new holdings come in a region where the quality of land and grapes is rising, according to Michael Fritz, the author of the story which first reported the purchases. “If you can get in in the early days before the land prices skyrocket, you’re better able to harvest returns as time passes,” Fritz said in an interview with The Crimson.

Farmland Investor Center wonders “if Brodiaea was a well-timed water play in light of the region’s worsening groundwater shortage.” As the market research reporter writes,

“Last August, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors adopted an “urgency” ordinance that prohibits any new development or new irrigated crop production unless the water it uses is offset by an equal amount of conservation. Water levels in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin have fallen sharply in recent years—two to six feet a year in some areas—causing wells to go dry and forcing many vineyards and rural residents to drill deeper wells, according to local accounts. The irrigation development restriction remains in place through August 26, 2015. The basin supplies water for 40% of the county’s agriculture sector.”

According to Harvard’s manager there, though, “the timing of Brodiaea’s irrigated land purchases in San Luis Obispo County and the subsequent moratorium on new irrigation development was ‘pure coincidence.'”

Rally for Justice in Iberá: Media Coverage

Check out the story  by Kristina Lorch in The Crimson this morning:

Students Rally Against Harvard’s Management of Timber Plantations in Argentina

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition held a rally Friday afternoon on the steps of Widener Library and Massachusetts Hall to protest the University’s management of timber plantations it owns in Argentina. The rally comes after much debate over the plantations, including allegations of mismanagement in the fall and the announcement of the recertification of the plantations last week.

Throughout the afternoon, students and community members chanted, marched, and held signs, which read “Harvard be transparent,” “Faust: no more land grabs,” and “We’re yelling timber, you better move.”

After several members of the Harvard community, including the Undergraduate Council President and a Harvard alumnus working on the City Council, spoke to the protesters gathered in front of Widener, the group marched to Massachusetts Hall, which houses the University’s central administration and President Drew G. Faust’s office. A delegation from the group entered Massachusetts Hall with a petition containing 1,150 signatures, formally asking Faust to change the University’s management of its plantations.

UC president Gus A. Mayopoulos ’15 spoke at the rally, voicing his support for the coalition’s efforts. The UC will be hosting a forum on responsible investment with Obregon and Spataro on Tuesday.

“It is unfortunate, it’s sad, and it’s embarrassing that Harvard is choosing to fund these efforts by damaging a community,” Mayopoulos said.

Cambridge City Council Member and Harvard Kennedy School graduate Leland Cheung also spoke at the rally.

“I’m proud to be a Harvard grad, but there’s so much that is making me ashamed,” Cheung said, citing both the campaign for divestment and the recent unionization movement of DoubleTree hotel employees.

“It’s not enough to try to educate students to go out and change the world when Harvard is going out and damaging the world,” he added.

UPDATED: Also, see the story in Open Media Boston, published on April 19:

Speaking through a translator, Spataro told the demonstrators “we’ve been suffering for years seeing the destruction of the wetlands in our community … we decided to bring the voice of the people who are suffering to the place where the decisions get made, and let them know what effect those decisions have on us.”

Also speaking through a translator, Adrian Obregon told the demonstrators, “a few years ago we tried to get reparations from Harvard for the damage they’ve done on their plantations, and we weren’t able to get anything from them.”

He explained that his own government is only listening to corporations like Harvard, and not the people, saying “they’re not listening to us in our own country.”

Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung spoke in support of the RIH campaign, saying “I’m a Harvard grad, and I’m proud to be a Harvard grad, but there’s so much that’s happening that makes me ashamed.” He says he’s speaking “too often” at similar rallies, including at the Doubletree hotel owned by the university “where workers are not being given a fair process.”

According to Cheung, “it’s not enough to try and educate students to go out and change the world when … Harvard’s actions are in complete contradiction to what they’re teaching all of us to go out and do; the hypocrisy at Harvard has to stop.”

Ed Childs, the chief steward at UNITE HERE’s union local 26 for Harvard’s dining hall workers also spoke in support of the rally, saying “we feel your struggle is our struggle.”

Calling them “two other plantations,” Childs drew attention to the similarities between the situation faced by the Argentinian communities, and workers at the Doubletree hotel and the Harvard Law School during their unionization campaigns, both of which he claims included having to face union busters hired by the university.

Join us tomorrow for a Progressive Seder at Harvard Hillel

the progressive jewish alliance
& responsible investment @ harvard
invite you to a
 
progressive passover seder
tues. april 15 | 7:30p | Harvard Hillel, Beren Hall
looking for a queer-friendly egalitarian seder 
for the second night of passover?
unsure what any of that means, 
but want to eat & learn with progressive jews?
want to combine jewish ritual with dialogue about pressing 
issues like transnational activism & responsible investment?
UNDERGRADUATES: SIGN UP HERE
OTHERS: email sandrakorn [at] college.

Rally for Justice in Iberá: FRIDAY 2pm @ WIDENER

Rally to Stop Harvard’s Argentine Mismanagement and Exploitation

Harvard needs to hear the message from us LOUD AND CLEAR: END the abuses. We are ONE Harvard community, and we deserve ONE set of standards. 

Will you join us to on April 11th as we unite across the 4000 miles between Corrientes and Harvard Yard to demand an end to the injustice? 

HARVARD INJUSTICES IN IBERÁ: 
For 7 years, Harvard-owned plantations in the Argentine Iberá Wetlands have jeopardized Emilio and Adrian’s communities and their way of life, squeezing out profits in the name of Harvard students’ benefit.

RALLYING FOR JUSTICE:
Join the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition for an epic RALLY on FRIDAY, APRIL 11th at 2PM to honor Emilio and Adrian’s visit to Cambridge and hear their account firsthand.

CO SPONSORS:
Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition
Students for a Just and Stable Future
Food and Water Watch
Student Labor Action Movement
Harvard Developers for Development
Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance
Harvard College Palestine Solidarity Committee
Responsible Endowments Coalition
Harvard Kennedy School Progressive Caucus
Harvard College Environmental Action Committee
HealthRoots at Harvard School of Public Health

This rally is part of the Stop Harvard’s Argentinian Mismanagement and Exploitation (SHAME) Tour week-of-action from April 5 to 16th.

A Steep Price for Harvard’s Investment

RI@H members Gabriel Bayard and Sam Wohns published an op-ed in the Crimson this morning entitled “A Steep Price for Harvard’s Investment.”

Adrian Obregon never used to worry about water. The 50-year-old farmer lives in Montaña, an indigenous community in Corrientes, Argentina that lies within the Iberá Wetlands, one of the largest wetlands in the world.

Today, though, enormous pine and eucalyptus plantations, operated by Las Misiones and owned by Harvard’s $32.7 billion endowment, have consumed the groundwater that Adrian’s family previously used for drinking and washing. Adrian told us that he has been forced to deepen his well every year since Harvard bought the plantations, each time spending money he doesn’t have.

Adrian and Chochón are just two of thousands of people affected by Las Misiones and EVASA, two timber plantations that we visited on a trip to Argentina last year. From April 5 until April 16, Adrian and Emilio Spataro, another Corrientes resident, are visiting Harvard. For the first time, the Harvard community and administration will be able to hear firsthand from those affected by Harvard’s investments in Argentina.

The extent to which Harvard’s companies mistreat, ignore, and abuse their neighbors was shocking. We saw trucks exiting the plantations driving on the wrong side of the road, making the roads undrivable for locals. Dominga told us about the time she woke up to find strange men building a plantation in her backyard, and Armando told us about the filthy dormitory he lived in for two years on an EVASA plantation.

….

Today, students join with environmentalists and local organizers like Emilio and Adrian in asking Harvard to be a responsible owner of the plantations it directly owns. It shouldn’t expand its plantations but instead should ensure that the plantations comply with all governmental and employment regulations.

….

Adrian and Emilio are not asking for the impossible; Harvard has direct control over these companies and can obligate them to operate in accordance with the University’s values. By responding to them in completing a comprehensive review of current practices and listening to communities in Corrientes at public forums, Harvard can uphold its commitment to sustainability abroad.

Being a student at Harvard is an incredible privilege. The least we can do is listen to those who are harmed in Harvard’s name, and work to make Harvard a positive force in communities from Cambridge to Corrientes. We have seen the effects of Harvard’s companies on people like Adrian and Chochón firsthand, and we demand that Harvard do better.

 

 

Response to Harvard President Faust’s April 7 Statement

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition applauds President Faust’s decision to sign the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. This announcement signals a new direction for the integrity of our university’s investment management strategy. We hope that Harvard’s new commitments to responsible investment will lead to a swift resolution to the conflict between Harvard’s plantations in Argentina and the surrounding communities.

Adrian Obregón, a representative of the small producers association near Harvard’s plantations in Argentina, is visiting campus to meet with students and administrators about the impact of the plantations on his community. He made the following statement after hearing today’s news:

“We welcome this good news. It will help us achieve justice for our communities and our environment. But we have to be vigilant so that Harvard doesn’t keep doing the same thing and act like everything is okay because they have signed this agreement.”

Tonight: Welcome Reception in HKS Faculty Dining Room

Adrian and Emilio have arrived in Cambridge, MA from Corrientes! Join us as we welcome them to the United States and launch the SHAME Tour and Week of Action.
 
We’ll have a Welcome Reception for Adrian & Emilio, tonight from 8-10pm, in the Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Dining Room. The Faculty Dining Room is off the HKS student cafeteria — enter the Littauer Building and follow signs! Refreshments will be served.
 
For more information on the SHAME tour, please visit https://responsibleharvard.com/shame-tour/.
Also click here for the week’s schedule of events.