Category Archives: Chile

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.

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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.

President Faust responds, won’t discuss Chilean investments

On August 6, 2013, Harvard President Drew Faust emailed the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition regarding our concerns with Harvard’s investment practices. She declined our invitation to talk about responsible investing but said she will continue to remain aware of discussions taking place on campus.

We are glad that our president is paying attention to those who are calling for investment transparency and accountability at Harvard. Yet we are disappointed that President Faust has again declined to investigate and mitigate risks to the environment, workers, and communities.

In order to learn about what is really happening in communities where Harvard is investing, members of our Coalition are in contact with individuals and local organizations at home and abroad. We intend to release findings shortly, as this information is critical to assessing Harvard’s investments.

We expect that President Faust will not only listen to these findings but take action.

  • Read the full letter from President Faust to RI@H below.

Dear Members of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition,

Thank you for sharing your perspectives on Harvard’s investment practices.  As you are aware, there has been a robust conversation on campus over the past year about the University’s holdings, including students meeting with members of the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, panel discussions, and vigorous debate in the Crimson and other venues.  I look forward to following these continuing campus conversations with interest.  With regard to climate change–a concern I know we share–I wanted to be sure that you knew I had dedicated a portion of my Commencement speech this year to characterizing some of the ways in which Harvard seeks to counteract, and develop solutions for, climate change. You can find the text of my speech here: http://www.harvard.edu/president/2013-commencement-speech.

You have written me, too, about Harvard Management Company investments in Chile.  Sustainability is a key element of our natural resources investment strategy, and we all share the goal of responsible stewardship of forests.  I am aware of the cases that you referred to, and HMC is confident that the courts, once they have reviewed all the facts of each case, will conclude that the company overseeing Harvard’s properties in Chile has acted in compliance with the law.

I am not able to join you for your event on September 17, but look forward to learning about the discussions that take place.

With best wishes for the rest of the summer and the upcoming semester,

Sincerely,

Drew Faust

Students Press President Faust on Chilean Investments

Despite the downpour, thirty Harvard students marched to President Faust’s office on Thursday, May 9 demanding answers. Agricola Brinzal, a Harvard-owned forestry company operating in Chile, has been accused of systematically violating that country’s environmental laws, and the Harvard community deserves a full explanation.

Francisco Meneses, a Chilean student at the Kennedy School, spoke forcefully about the need for the University to respect the environment and human rights wherever it invests, and led a delegation of undergraduate and graduate students into Massachusetts Hall, where President Faust’s office is located. The group hand-delivered a letter urging the University to disclose its rationale for its Agricola Brinzal investment and adopt clear environmental, social, and governance protections.

Though President Faust was unavailable to speak to students, that didn’t stop those gathered from raising their voices as a reminder of Harvard’s shared values and our collective responsibility to the world beyond Cambridge.

Watch Francisco speak out about environmental abuses in Chile

See pictures of the event

Read the letter delivered to President Faust

See the media advisory

Letter to President Faust on Chilean Investment Scandal

May 9, 2013

Dear President Faust:

We write to you regarding Harvard’s lackluster response to the serious allegations of wrongdoing by Agricola Brinzal, a 99.9% Harvard-owned forestry company in Chile. The details of the case and the position of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition can be found in the April 30 op-ed in the Harvard Crimson entitled “Harvard’s Exploitation in Chile.”

We first brought this matter to your attention on April 26, when over 35 students and community members gathered outside your office to demonstrate support for the adoption of new policies that would set Harvard on a path toward responsible ownership. We asked for an investigation and response to the situation in Chile, preferably by May 8. Unfortunately, the only public statement Harvard has made on the issue was an online comment posted to the Crimson website by senior communications director Kevin Galvin. The private response sent today to Michael Danto and Stephanie Cappa did not address the concerns expressed by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition. We would like Harvard to clarify its due diligence and oversight procedures for directly-owned companies.

Mr. Galvin implied in his comment that Agricola Brinzal would not be found guilty of any wrongdoing and that any past the wrongdoing occurred before Harvard took ownership of the land on which the company operates. This response is not sufficient for the following reasons:

Agricola Duramen Limitada, a similar Harvard-owned company in Chile, has already paid fines for its environmentally damaging practices. Without clear standards for responsible environmental, social, and governance practices in directly-held companies, how can we – and Harvard – be confident that similar abuses will not occur in the future?

Even if all legal violations occurred before Agricola Brinzal purchased the land, this still casts doubt on the judgment of Harvard’s investment managers. If Harvard considers ESG criteria, as HMC has often claimed, why does Harvard’s company intend to profit from recent environmental violations?

Finally, since Harvard owns a near-total stake in this company, what is its plan for improving the property’s management and preventing such practices from occurring in the future?

We await a full explanation of this case and the investment policies that led to it.

Best wishes,

Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition

View the May 9 Letter to President Faust

Media Advisory: Harvard Students Demand Answers in Ongoing Chilean Investment Scandal

MEDIA ADVISORY

Date: May 8, 2013

ContactAlexi White (617-413-5972, alexi_white@hks13.harvard.edu)

Cambridge, MA—In response to Harvard’s evasive response to the Chilean government’s lawsuit against university-owned Agrícola Brinzal, students will rally on the steps of Widener Library to demand answers from the Harvard administration.

Who: Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition; Responsible Endowments Coalition; Francisco Meneses, a Chilean student at Harvard’s Kennedy School

What: Rally demanding answers from Drew Faust, the President of Harvard University, regarding Chilean government lawsuit

When: Thursday, May 9 at 1:00 PM

Where: Steps of Widener Library in Harvard Yard

Background Information:

Chilean Court Case

A report from Chile’s Center for Investigative Journalism (CIPER) describes how the company has cleared large swaths of native forest and reforested with eucalyptus trees. The Ministry of Agriculture’s National Forestry Corporation has brought multiple lawsuits against Agrícola Brinzal for its illegal deforestation and reforestation practices. The company’s logging practices are not only illegal, they are also environmentally damaging to Chile’s forests and the local farming community.

Harvard’s Ownership

Harvard owns 99.99% of Agrícola Brinzal through a wholly-owned subsidiary called the Phemus Corporation, which enjoys nonprofit tax status. According to Harvard’s tax filings, in 2010 the company generated more than half a million dollars in income for the Harvard endowment. This money was used to employ professors, fund scholarships, and otherwise support Harvard’s mission. This includes the Harvard Forest, a research center where experts investigate the destructive effects that habitat degradation and development can have on the environment and local communities.

Students Demand Answers

One week ago, on April 26th at 1pm, 35 students hand-delivered an invitation to President Faust’s office to explain Harvard’s investment in Agrícola Brinzal and demanding a plan to make investments more responsible.

The outcry from Harvard students and Chilean citizens comes after a series of ethically dubious investments from the Harvard Management Company. A growing group of students, faculty and staff are pressuring the university to change its investment principles. In April, 45 students gathered from across six graduate schools and the College to plan for future campaigns.

Press Release: Harvard-Owned Company Sued for Illegal Logging – Students Want Answers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday 26th April 2013

Harvard-Owned Company Sued for Illegal Logging – Students Want Answers

Students push Harvard administration to sign up to principles of responsible investment as Harvard-owned logging company is sued in Chile.
Contact: Lindsey Claus at (774)-266-4378 or lindseyclaus@college.harvard.edu

CAMBRIDGE, MA – At 1pm today, 30 students hand-delivered an invitation to President Faust’s office to attend a meeting to explain Harvard’s investment in Agrícola Brinzal and to demand a plan to make investments more responsible.

The Harvard-owned logging company is being sued by the Chilean government for illegally clearing swaths of land and reforesting it with eucalyptus trees, damaging the environment and local communities.

The outcry from Harvard students and Chilean citizens comes after a series of ethically dubious investments from the Harvard Management Company. A growing group of students, faculty and staff are pressuring the university to change its investment principles. Last week, 45 students gathered from across six graduate schools and the College to plan for future campaigns.

College student Sandra Korn said,

“Because Harvard refuses to release information about its investments – we don’t know if this activity is unusual or just one of many Harvard-owned companies that is breaking the law.

Unless we ensure responsible investment principles for our $32 billion endowment – Harvard’s direct holdings could be damaging the environment and people around the world.”

Harvard owns at least another 11 companies in Chile, and more than 100 throughout the world.

Chilean student Francisco Meneses, who led the delegation to President Faust said,

“We are proud of the high environmental standards that we have on campus – they are an expression of Harvard’s values. So why should that be any different for our investments?”

Students have demanded a response from President Faust by May 8th at 9am.

 

Background Information

Chilean Court Case

A report from Chile’s Center for Investigative Journalism (CIPER) describes how the company has cleared large swaths of native forest and reforested with eucalyptus trees. The Ministry of Agriculture’s National Forestry Corporation has brought multiple lawsuits against Agrícola Brinzal for its illegal deforestation and reforestation practices. The company’s logging practices are not only illegal, they are also environmentally damaging to Chile’s forests and the local farming community.

Harvard’s Ownership

Harvard owns 99.99% of Agrícola Brinzal through a wholly-owned subsidiary called the Phemus Corporation, which enjoys nonprofit tax status. According to Harvard’s tax filings, in 2010 the company generated more than half a million dollars in income for the Harvard endowment. This money was used to employ professors, fund scholarships, and otherwise support Harvard’s mission. This includes the Harvard Forest, a research center where experts investigate the destructive effects that habitat degradation and development can have on the environment and local communities.

Additional Troubling Investments: Harvard-Owned Hotel Abuses Workers

Workers at the Hilton-managed DoubleTree Hotel in Allston, 15 minutes from Harvard’s main campus, have accused the hotel management of disregarding their grievances and neglecting important worker protection standards. On March 12, over 60 workers, students, and community members petitioned the hotel’s management to give the employees a fair process to decide on unionization.

Further Information:

  1. Harvard’s Tax Filing: http://ciperchile.cl/pdfs/03-2013/harvard/Tax_President_Fellows.pdf

  2. Report published by Chile’s Center of Investigative Journalism (Spanish): http://ciperchile.cl/2013/03/06/empresa-de-la-universidad-de-harvard-es-procesada-por-tala-ilegal-de-bosque-nativo-en-chiloe/

  3. English Translation of the report above: http://www.ilovechile.cl/2013/03/20/harvard-university-companies-accused-illegal-logging-chilo/83237

  4. Oxfam report on land acquisition by U.S. investors, including Harvard: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/files/us-land-investment.pdf

  5. Crimson Op-Ed regarding the DoubleTree Hotel: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/4/19/Harvard-unions-off-campus/

Contact: Lindsey Claus at (774)-266-4378 or lindseyclaus@college.harvard.edu

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