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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.

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.

Media Advisory: SHAME Tour of Harvard Next Week

MEDIA ADVISORY: SHAME TOUR OF HARVARD

Two organizers from Corrientes, Argentina will visit Cambridge, Mass.

Cambridge, MA—On Saturday, April 5, two organizers from the communities most affected by Harvard’s timber plantations will arrive in Cambridge, Massachusetts for an 11-day tour and week of action sponsored by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.

In spring 2013, RI@H launched its responsible ownership campaign, demanding that Harvard take responsibility for the ethical practices of the companies it owns fully as part of its endowment.

After learning of ecological, land rights, and labor rights violations in Corrientes, Argentina near the plantations of Harvard-owned companies EVASA and Las Misiones, RI@H published an investigative report and mini-documentary, delivered letters to Harvard administrators, and held demonstrations on campus.

Community organizations in Argentina want Harvard to
1) stop expanding plantations within their communities,
2) remove plantations within 2,000 meters of their homes, and
3) comply with all legally required employment standards.
Although Harvard has responded to both students and Argentinian organizers, Harvard’s timber plantations have not yet complied with these demands.

With the support of Food and Water Watch, the Responsible Endowments Coalition, XminusY, and the Oakland Institute, as well as over 70 individual donors, RI@H has invited Emilio Spataro, an organizer working with local farmers in Corrientes, and Adrian Obregon, a leader in the local small producers association and a liaison to the larger Argentine campesino movement, to come to Harvard’s campus from April 5 – 16 for the SHAME tour (Stop Harvard’s Argentine Mismanagement and Exploitation).

Over the course of the week, the two delegates from Corrientes will speak to student groups, Harvard administrators, and student leaders about their experiences living under the shadow of Harvard’s plantations.

Spataro and Obregon have a scheduled meeting with Harvard administrators including Jameela Pedicini, Vice-President for Sustainability for Harvard Management Company; Lars Madsen, Office of the President of Harvard University; and Katherine Murtagh, Director of Compliance for Harvard Management Company.

The week of action will also include the following public events:

Wednesday April 9, 7–9PM:  “From Harvard Yard to the Ibera Wetlands” (CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue Room C-203).

Thursday April 10, 8:30–11:00 AM: “A Conversation about Transnational Movement Building with Organizers from the Campaign to Save the Ibera Wetland’s in Corrientes Argentina” (New York City, location TBA)

Friday April 11, 2–3PM: “Rally for Justice in Iberá” (Convening on the steps of Widener Library, Harvard Yard)

Tuesday April 15, 4–5PM: Harvard College Undergraduate Council “Forum for Responsible Investment” (Harvard Yard, Room TBA)

 

Save the date: Rally at 2PM on April 11th

*Save the date* 
For seven years, Harvard-owned plantations in Corrientes, Argentina have been
 increasingly jeopardizing Emilio and Adrian’s communities and way of life
squeezing out profits in the name of Harvard students’ benefit – OUR benefit. 
 
Join Responsible Investment at Harvard
 for an epic RALLY on FRIDAY, APRIL 11th at 2PM
 to honor Emilio and Adrian’s visit to Cambridge and hear their account firsthand. 
 
Harvard needs to hear the message from us LOUD AND CLEAR: 
end the abuses. 
ONE Harvard brand, ONE Harvard community, 
ONE set of standards. 
 
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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?