Category Archives: Articles

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.”

The UC Endorses the Responsible Ownership Policy Endorsement Act!

The Harvard Undergraduate Council unanimously approved the Responsible Ownership Policy Endorsement Act, which furthers the Council’s official support of encouraging Harvard to adopt responsible investment practices.

As a part of the legislation, UC leaders will engage with administrators to urge them to ensure that university’s investments uphold Harvard’s values. Furthermore, the Undergraduate Council will work with RI@H to send a “mail merge” to all undergraduate e-mail addresses to publicize the campaign and to raise awareness among members of the student body.

The UC will also hold a campus-wide forum regarding responsible investment during the SHAME Tour and Week of Action in early April. The Council will invite administrators, faculty, members of the Harvard Management Corporation, and students to attend.

Sincerest thanks to the Undergraduate Council for their continued support of Responsible Investment!

 

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. 

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…

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.

HARVARD CONSIDERING CREATING A SOCIAL CHOICE FUND

CAMBRIDGE, MA, December 6, 2012—Yesterday, the Harvard Crimson reported that President Faust has asked the Harvard Corporation, the university’s highest governing body, to consider accepting the Fair Harvard Fund by creating a Social Choice Fund as an option for alumni donors within the endowment.

Members of the Corporation will meet with student advocates next semester to discuss their proposals.

“It is high time that the Harvard Management Company live up to our community’s high expectations of principled leadership and long-term sustainability, ” Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition Co-Coordinator and Harvard junior Sam Wohns said.

“We look forward to meeting with the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility in January on behalf of the thousands of students, alumni, professors, and workers who want our endowment to become transparent, accountable, and socially and environmentally responsible,” Wohns said.

The Need for Sustainable Investment Now

Erika Karp,  Managing Director and Head, Global Sector Research, UBS Investment Bank, and a member of the Harvard Business School Executive Education  program on “Innovating for Sustainability,” wrote an article in Forbes on Nov. 8 titled “Sustainable Capitalism…If not now, then when?” She calls on companies to reform how they operate in order to be successful in the future through increased collaboration and more transparency by investing responsibly according to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria.

Read her article here.

Commencement 2012 / Year in Review: Responsible Investment

“To be a responsible investor requires transparency, accountability, and consideration of [extra-financial] factors when making investment decisions,” says Samuel F. Wohns ’14.

By HANA N. ROUSE, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2012

0n April 3, approximately 25 students, including members of the Student Labor Action Movement, union organizers, and Harvard employees, gathered in front of Massachusetts Hall to celebrate Harvard’s decision not to reinvest in HEI Hotels & Resorts—a hotel chain that had come under fire in recent years for repeated allegations of failure to comply with labor regulations.

Five months earlier, many of the same students had spent the fall campaigning against Harvard’s holdings in HEI with the Occupy Harvard movement, which listed non-reinvestment in HEI among its original demands drafted in November 2011.

But while student advocates had been pushing for Harvard not to reinvest in HEI because of ethical concerns, Harvard Management Company President and CEO Jane L. Mendillo stressed that HMC’s decision had been based purely on financial considerations.

“Importantly, this decision was based on factors related to the HMC portfolio and its strategy and needs; not on concerns about HEI’s practices,” Mendillo wrote an email to University President Drew G. Faust.

The discrepancy between Occupy and HMC’s reasoning on HEI is emblematic of a deeper disconnect that exists between the investing philosophies of activists and of HMC portfolio managers. While many students are pushing for Harvard to embrace socially responsible investment standards, HMC insists that its primary responsibility is to generate strong returns for the University, not to advance social change through the markets. Continue reading Commencement 2012 / Year in Review: Responsible Investment

Harvard, Others Face New Tactics by SRI Backers

“Our research finds that SRI does not necessarily hurt your portfolio,” says Katherine Burstein, an associate with the Mercer’s responsible investment team. “There’s proof out there that shows you can do just as well while implementing SRI policies, and in some cases you can do better.”

Article covering the Fair Harvard Fund published on May 29, 2012 in FundFire, a Financial Times service.

By Billy Nauman

Student groups across the country from high-profile colleges such as Harvard and the University of Chicago are employing new tactics to pressure university endowment managers to adopt more socially responsible investing practices.

At Harvard, a group of students has launched the “Fair Harvard Fund,” an effort to persuade the Harvard Management Co. to start a “social choice fund” for donors to give restricted monies to the endowment. The Fair Harvard Fund, run by the student Coalition for Responsible Investment, is collecting and pooling donations from Harvard students and alumni that it intends to present to the endowment manager this fall as the basis for carving out a socially responsible portfolio within the endowment.

“It’s a monetary petition to get the community to show their support for ESG [environmental, social and governance],” says Evelyn Chow, a member of the student coalition. “Harvard doesn’t have a social choice fund at all… If you would like your donation [to Harvard] to be invested responsibly, you don’t have any way of doing that in the current system.” So far, the Fair Harvard Fund has received donations from approximately 400 students and alumni. Continue reading Harvard, Others Face New Tactics by SRI Backers