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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

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BREAKING: Harvard manager detained in Romania on corruption charges

Full press release to come; for now, please see this email we sent to our supporters this morning:

Yesterday, Romanian authorities detained Dragoș Secu, director of 100%-owned Harvard timber company Scolopax, for accepting multi-million dollar bribes and luxury gifts to illegally acquire land on Harvard’s behalf.

Dragoș Lipan-Secu, former managing director of Scolopax, with his wife Mariana . Image via http://www.voceatransilvaniei.ro/
Dragoș Lipan-Secu, former managing director of Scolopax, with his wife Mariana . Image via http://www.voceatransilvaniei.ro/

This is foreign direct investment at its worst.

It’s part of an alarming pattern at Harvard Management Company. Yesterday was the third time in recent months that a company owned by Phemus Corporation, a Harvard investment fund, was implicated in an investment scandal.

Last year, a Chilean judge found Harvard guilty of illegally cutting protected forests. In October, student field research exposed environmentally destructive practices by Harvard’s timber companies in northern Argentina.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The RI@H Coalition has been calling on Harvard President Drew Faust to implement responsible ownership policies for more than eight months. It’s a decision you or I could make in a minute: these policies would require Harvard companies to uphold Harvard values.

Yesterday’s news from Romania made one thing clear: We need to make our call even louder.

Will you join us in asking President Faust to require Harvard companies to uphold Harvard values?

Yes, I will click here to send an email to President Faust now.

No, but I will pledge my support for the responsible ownership campaign.

When President Faust lets Harvard investment managers pursue profits at any cost, she does not want the Harvard community to find out. By taking action, you’re helping us call her bluff.

NEWS: Deputies request that the ICAA investigate Harvard’s property in the Iberá Wetlands

News from Radio Sudamericana:

Deputies request that the ICAA investigate Harvard’s property in the Iberá Wetlands

A resolution officially requests that the Corrientes Institute of Water and Environment (ICAA – Instituto Correntino del Agua y del Ambiente) issue a report on the environmental degradation being caused by pine and eucalyptus plantations owned by Harvard University in the Iberá Wetlands.

 

Corrientes Deputy Manuel Sussini, from the political party Compromiso Correntino, suggested the initiative after a report was published in a national newspaper on October 27. Sussini made the proposal following protests by Harvard students, alumni, and professors. The draft will be considered during the 22nd session of the Chamber of Deputies.

According to a student-written report, Harvard owns more than 87,000 hectares of land in the Corrientes province. Two companies, Las Misiones and EVASA, manage industrial pine and eucalyptus plantations on the land for the university. The plantations generate profits from the sale of lumber, which help finance the university’s research and education activities.

The university is in charge of a $32 billion endowment, which is invested by the Harvard Management Company (HMC). In recent years, HMC paid $55.2 million for both local companies. The Pérez Companc family owned Las Misiones until 2002, when an American-citizen, Douglas Tompkins, bought it. Harvard then purchased the company through an intermediary investment fund, and it currently owns 100% of both companies’ shares.

According to the student-written study, Harvard has expanded its plantations into the Iberá Provincial Nature Reserve into areas where it should not be permitted and into nearby community lands. Additionally, the study noted that the plantations have reduced biodiversity, changed birds’ migratory patterns, and led to the loss of many plant species. Many of these environmental changes are caused by the trees’ intense consumption of water, which causes surrounding wetlands to disappear. The roads carrying lumber out of the fields also damage the roads.

Original Post: http://www.corrientes24hs.com.ar/?p=7035

More news coverage in Argentina

Another major Argentine newspaper—La Nacion—wrote a story about the campaign for justice at Harvard’s timber plantations in the Iberá Wetlands.

A translated version appears below, and the original Spanish version can be found here.

Harvard students protest in defense of the Iberá Wetlands

Written by Laura Rocha (La Nacion); Translated by Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition

The Iberá Wetlands in Corrientes are in the news again this week: A report on plantations owned by Harvard University denounced the school’s unsustainable business practices in this national treasure.

“The report’s findings contradict recent statements by Harvard’s president, Drew Faust about the university’s investment practices. Two weeks ago, she wrote of Harvard’s “commitment to sustainable investment” and its “distinctive responsibilities to society,'” said Sam Wohns, a Harvard College senior and a member of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition. The Coalition co-published the report with The Oakland Institute, a public policy group in California.

The Harvard Management Company (HMC) manages the university’s $32 billion endowment fund. In recent years, much of that money has been invested in natural resources. There is a long list of countries in which there are active investments: from the Cayman Islands to New Zealand, and most of South America.

“When I saw how the plantations had invaded the wetlands, I felt sick to my stomach” said Sam Wohns, the report’s author. “As a Harvard student, I should not be benefiting from environmental destruction in Argentina.”

The forestry companies in Corrientes, Argentina—EVASA and Las Misiones—are together valued at $55.2 million and cover 217,166 acres. Since the university bought the companies in 2007, it has rapidly expanded the plantations into protected areas, and even into nearby communities.

According to residents of local communities quoted in the report, the plantations reduce their fields’ productivity, create health problems, and damage public roads.

“Harvard’s plantations are destroying our way of life,” said Adrián Obregón, a member of the Association of Small Producers in San Miguel, an organization of small farmers living near Harvard’s plantations. “We want to stop Harvard’s expansion of their plantations within our communities.”

Despite their negative impacts, most of the plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for sustainable management practices. But according to the FSC audits, Harvard has failed to fully implement responsible practices.

Official representatives from Harvard said that all regulations are being complied with and that the Argentine government has not filed any complaints.

Today, about 40 students from Harvard gathered to demonstrate against the expansion of timber plantations in the second largest region of wetlands in the world, the Iberá Wetlands in northern Argentina.

During the protest, the students delivered a letter to President Faust, which was written by farmers whose lives have been threatened by the plantations owned by Harvard. The letter demanded that the university stop the expansion of plantations in the region and deal with the concerns that have been raised in the surrounding communities.

“Faust is responsible for this university’s conduct and these plantations are no exception,” said Gabriel Bayard, a Harvard student who has visited the plantations in Argentina. “The blatant disregard for Harvard’s values is shocking. I hope that the university stops the expansion of these plantations immediately. ”

Popular Argentine news outlet, Clarín, covers RI’s report and rally

The report that we and The Oakland Institute released last week is making waves across Argentina. Several news outlets have published stories, including the one below in the Argentine publication, Clarín. (Please follow the link for the original article in Spanish.) At the time of this blog post, the article already has 115 comments, 1400 Facebook likes and 140 Tweets! Please keep scroll down to read the entire article translated into English.

Harvard owns 80 thousand hectares of land in Argentina and students are accusing the university of causing environmental damage in the Iberá Wetlands

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition organized a rally last Friday to deliver a letter signed by seven local community organizations to Harvard University President Drew Faust

Written by Gonzalo Sánchez (Clarin)

Translated by Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition

A report released last week reveals that Harvard University owns 87,884 hectares of land in the heart of one of the world’s largest freshwater bodies: the Iberá Wetlands in Corrientes, Argentina. The lands contain industrial pine and eucalyptus plantations managed by Las Misiones and EVASA, two Harvard-owned corporations.

Harvard finances its world-class educational programs from profits generated from these timber sales. According to official records, the American university also invests in natural resources in other parts of the world. This is the local story of a troubling foreign landowner.

Last week in Boston, a group of students, professors and alumni released a report documenting the environmental damage caused by these investments in Corrientes. The study says that Harvard has expanded the plantations within the Natural Reserve of Iberá into protected areas, including areas that interfere with local land use. 

According to residents and scientists cited in the study, the plantations have reduced biodiversity by changing birds’ migratory patterns, destroying plant life, and damaging the local ecosystem, since the trees absorb huge amounts of water.

According to the study, residents are also worried about long-term soil damage and reduced access to drinking water. Residents in San Miguel and Chavarria said that they have had to deepen their water wells by several meters because they became dry at previous levels. The report also highlights the damage caused to local roads by trucks carrying timber away from the plantations.

“Harvard is trying to make record profits in Corrientes by taking advantage of favorable climatic conditions, a legal framework that grants tax benefits to foreign investors, and an attractive image of corporate responsibility,” said Sam Wohns, one of the students who conducted field research.    

“We have long been concerned about the university’s lack of transparent investment policies, and now we have evidence that these policies are insufficient,” adds Wohns. “I was shocked by the working conditions of the employees. The companies claim to have responsible practices, but the workers I spoke with said that it’s unsafe to work on the plantations.”

Wohns continued: “Most of the plantations are within the wetlands. According to the companies’ own documents, they should be respecting buffer zones and wildlife corridors. Our aerial photographs, however, show that they have planted on top of lakes and streams, drying up a precious natural resource.”

Wohns is in his fourth year at Harvard College, where he studies political economy. He is also a member of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, a group that works to hold Harvard accountable for its investment decisions abroad. The Coalition released the report about Harvard’s investments with The Oakland Institute.

The Harvard Management Company (HMC) manages Harvard’s $32 billion USD endowment, which has heavily invested in natural resources in recent years. HMC invests all over the world, including in the Cayman Islands, in New Zealand, and in most countries in South America.

HMC purchased EVASA and Las Misiones for $55.2 million USD. The Perez Companc family owned Las Misiones until 2002, when it was bought by Douglas Tompkins, an American who has been repeatedly criticized by locals for limiting their access to water. In 2007, Tompkins sold EVASA to an investment fund in which Harvard was invested. Now the university owns 100% of the companies. Las Misiones owns lands that Harvard needed in order to obtain tax benefits offered by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Clarin contacted Harvard about the allegations included in the report. Kevin Galvin, a university spokesperson, said: “These projects are within areas approved for commercial activities and have been managed diligently to minimize impact on the wetlands. Both sites are operating with the full support of the local authorities. EVASA has obtained important quality certifications and Las Misiones is expected to obtain them soon.”

Galvin’s comments are inconsistent with the findings of the recently released report. 

Press Release – Rally for Justice at Harvard’s Timber Plantations

Released Friday, October 18th:

Students Rally to Demand Justice at Harvard’s Timber Plantations

Protest responds to reports of controversial environmental and social practices at Harvard-owned timber companies in Argentina

Cambridge, MA–Earlier today, 40 students rallied in Harvard Yard against the expansion of the university’s timber plantations in the world’s second largest wetlands region, the Iberá Wetlands of northern Argentina.

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During the rally, students delivered a letter addressed to President Faust that was written by farmers whose lives have been threatened by Harvard-owned plantations. The letter demanded that Harvard halt the expansion of its timber plantations in the region, and that the university address community concerns regarding the timber plantations.

“President Faust is accountable for the conduct of this university, and these plantations are no exception,” said Gabriel Bayard, a Harvard junior who has visited the plantations in Argentina. “The blatant disregard for Harvard values is shocking. I hope that she halts the expansion of these plantations immediately.”

The rally and letter delivery arose in response to the recent release of a report by the Oakland Institute and the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition which documented the damaging effects of Harvard-owned companies on ecosystems and local communities in Argentina.

 

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PRESS RELEASE: Coalition welcomes Harvard’s first Vice President for Sustainable Investing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Harvard Coalition welcomes University’s first 

Vice President for Sustainable Investing

Contact Stephanie Cappa at Stephanie.Cappa@gmail.com or 757-207-2777

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition welcomes Jameela Pedicini as Harvard’s first Vice President for Sustainable Investing.

According to a Harvard Management Company (HMC) press release, Pedicini “will work with HMC investment professionals across asset classes to analyze how ESG issues are currently integrated into the investment process and suggest enhancements where appropriate.”

She will also provide “substantive staff support to Harvard University’s Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR) and serve as a primary liaison to other University offices, committees, and constituents on ESG/investor responsibility issues.”

“The University has listened to students and community members calling on Harvard’s investments to be aligned with Harvard’s values,” said Alexi White (HKS, ‘13). “We warmly welcome Jameela as Harvard’s first investment officer to focus on environment, social, and governance issues.”

Pedicini formerly served as Investment Officer for Global Governance with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and as a Manager of Investor Engagements at the UN’s Principles for Responsible Investment London office.

“We look forward to working with Ms. Pedicini to ensure that all Harvard investments – starting with wholly-owned companies like Agricola Brinzal in Chiloe and the Doubletree Hotel in Allston – meet basic standards for land rights, labor rights, and environmental protection,” said Sandra Korn (College, ’14). “This is an important step to extend Harvard’s commitment to responsibility, ethical leadership, and comprehensive sustainability to its endowment.”

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition will deliver an invitation to meet with Jameela in the coming days.

NEW Spotlight on Harvard’s Finances

For the first time ever, Harvard University’s and Harvard Management Company’s tax filings are available in searchable form in the “Resources” section of our website.

We’ve just posted Harvard University’s latest tax return (FY 2012, IRS Form 990) there – with highlights below. Find something else noteworthy? Please let us know!

Spotlight on Harvard’s Finances for Tax Year 2011-2012:

  • Confirmed 100% ownership of Agricola Brinzal, a forestry company facing multiple lawsuits filed by the Chilean government for illegal logging and violating forest management plans.
  • Confirmed 100% ownership of Agricola Duramen, LTDA, a forestry company fined by the Chilean government for violating environmental protection laws.
  • Reveals a large Cayman Islands presence, including a 70% stake ($177 million) in Round Table Asset Recovery Master Fund – a Cayman Island-based hedge fund founded in 2007 by Ian Banwell, former CIO for Bank of America.
  • From 2008 to 2009, the endowment plummeted from $35.9 billion to $25.3 billion – a $10.5 billion loss in a single year.
  • Fundraising power: The University receives $200 – $300 million per year in contributions.
  • In addition to HMC, Harvard employs the following tax-exempt investment management groups: Blue Marble Holdings, Demeter Holdings, Phemus, and Shipping Venture Corp.C

Harvard, Be a Responsible Owner!

This post was originally published in The Harvard Crimson on May 17, 2013

By KEVIN S. WANG, ALEXI WHITE, and CAROLINE T. ZHANG

Harvard University owns companies around the world and is a controlling stakeholder—that is, a majority shareholder, majority owner, or full owner—of over 100 companies. As a center of higher education and a leader of the community, Harvard holds itself to principles of environmental sustainability, non-discrimination, and labor rights. Its pledges to reduce emissions and to pay its workers a living wage are just a few examples. Our commitment to transparency, fairness, sustainability, and human dignity should not end at Harvard’s gates. Harvard must be a responsible owner of all its investments, particularly of the companies in which it owns a controlling stake. It has special ability, and special responsibility, to work with these companies to improve their practices.

There are numerous inconsistencies between Harvard’s policies on campus and those of its companies. Last year, food service workers at Harvard Law School asked the University for a fair process to unionize. Harvard agreed, remaining neutral in their unionization process and respecting the majority of workers’ request to form a union. However, at the DoubleTree Hotel in Allston, also owned—but not managed—by Harvard, workers have not been granted a fair process to create and join a union without intimidation or interference from managers, despite repeated requests. In fact, workers at the DoubleTree even filed suit with the National Labor Relations Board in April 2013, alleging that management illegally interfered with their unionization process. Why should the workers at a hotel directly owned by Harvard be treated any differently than workers on this campus?

Harvard directly owns at least 11 companies in Chile. One, Agrícola Brinzal, is currently being sued by CONAF, the National Forestry Corporation of the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile, for multiple violations of Chilean law against deforestation. Another Chilean company owned by Harvard, Agrícola Duramen Limitada, was fined by Chilean courts for similar activity. A company owned entirely by Harvard should not be engaging in alleged illegal logging practices.

As members of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, we ask that Harvard University and Harvard Management Company be responsible owners with all funds and companies in which it holds a controlling stake—that is, in which it is a majority shareholder, majority owner, or full owner. We demand that Harvard act to ensure that the policies of these companies comply with basic standards of responsibility.

First, Harvard’s companies must comply with all local, national, and international laws and treaties in all areas where the company is operating, whether or not these laws are rigorously enforced by local authorities.

Second, Harvard must ensure that its companies are acting as sustainably as possible, as Harvard has committed to do on campus. The University’s website states, “Harvard University believes universities have an accountability to the future—a special role and a special responsibility to address global challenges as large as climate change and environmental sustainability.” Harvard’s Sustainability Principles note, “The University has an affirmative record of responsible compliance with environmental and safety regulations and a proven effective system of environmental management accountability.” Harvard’s companies should embody these principles too.

Third, Harvard’s companies must recognize workers’ right to collective bargaining and union representation, as well as promise neutrality and a fair process for unionization, even if these rights are not enshrined in local legislation. They must also guarantee parity in wages and benefits between directly hired and sub-contracted employees.

Fourth, Harvard’s companies must respect land rights, including the rights of small farmers and indigenous people. They must not infringe on any legitimate land tenure rights, including where such rights are not formally recorded, and they must seek to prevent all violent conflict over land tenure rights.

Fifth, Harvard’s companies must adhere to Harvard’s hiring and employment policies. The University’s own published non-discrimination policy states that “Any form of discrimination based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, veteran status, or disability unrelated to course requirements is contrary to the, principles and policies of Harvard University.” The same policy must apply for all of Harvard’s companies.

Finally, Harvard’s companies must be transparent and accountable. They must produce and publish online annual reports disclosing all political contributions, lobbying activities, the position and compensation of the top 10 highest-compensated employees, and conflicts of interest.

We have laid out these principles—and a way for Harvard to enforce and remain accountable for them—on the website of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition. We demand that Harvard become a responsible owner now, by working toward a fair unionization process for the workers at the DoubleTree, by rectifying any alleged illegal deforestation in Chile, and by adopting our proposed Standards for Responsible Ownership for all of its companies.

Harvard’s companies should not be harming the environment, their workers, or the world. Harvard has the ability to bring about change in the companies it controls, and the moral obligation to do so.

Kevin S. Wang ’16 lives in Stoughton Hall. Alexi White, MPP ’13, is a student at the Harvard Kennedy School. Caroline T. Zhang ’16, a Crimson news writer, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.