In an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson, Andrew Wiltshire, Harvard Management Company’s Vice-President of Alternative Assets responded to our campaign by claiming that our published materials reflect “deliberate misrepresentation.”
The report and video published by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and the Oakland Institute considered hundreds of pieces of evidence and highlighted dozens of important concerns. Unfortunately, Wiltshire’s response focuses on only a few pieces of evidence and relies on misrepresentation of us and our campaign.
We hope that the following explanations will clarify some of the confusing claims Wiltshire makes about the “Harvard in Iberá” video.
Does the Harvard in Iberá video claim that Harvard is illegally grabbing land in Argentina?
No. The video simply notes that Harvard’s companies’ relationship to local land-grabbing activity “merits further investigation.”
During the section of “Harvard in Iberá” which discussed land grabs, the video highlights a testimonial from a farmer who had someone approach them with false documents. The video then proceeds to say, “While illegal transactions and land grabs are difficult to prove, Harvard’s proximity to the plantations and their irresponsible actions merits further investigation. EVASA and Las Misiones managers, who refused to go on camera, told us that their companies always comply with the law.” We are asking that Harvard listen to and respond substantively to the concerns of local farmers, not condemning Harvard for illegal operations. This is far from a “gross breach of ethics,” as Wiltshire has accused.
Is the local official’s testimonial taken out of context?
No. As would have been clear to Wiltshire had he watched “Harvard in Iberá” again, the local official in the video never speaks about land grabs.
Wiltshire writes, “We have never attempted to buy land from small farmers and abhor any effort to coerce landowners into selling their land. If the alleged incident did occur, then it was certainly not perpetrated by anyone connected with Harvard’s holdings. In the Responsible Investment at Harvard video, a local official is filmed stating that he agrees that such things have happened. But the question to which he was responding is not shown, and we believe he was commenting on a different matter completely unrelated to Harvard’s investments.”
Jorge Vara, the local official to whom Wiltshire refers, speaks in the video more than three minutes before anyone discusses illegal land grabs. The narration states “According to the provincial agency in charge of regulating these industries, the issues of health and economic development are solvable,” referring directly to the previous three issues discussed (dust, inadequate roads, and working conditions), not to the land grabs which are mentioned only later in the video. Additionally, during the interview, Vara speaks of the issues of the roads and barriers between the forestation and local inhabited areas.
We have posted the entire clip from which Vara’s response was excerpted on Youtube here. As is apparent in both the extended response and in “Harvard in Iberá,” Vara is not commenting on land grabs, and we are unsure why Wiltshire has accused us of misrepresenting his quote.
Does the video have images that are not from Harvard’s plantations?
Yes. Harvard denied our request to enter the plantations to film, and we included representative footage from a nearby plantation to give a sense of worker housing conditions on a timber plantation.
Harvard’s plantations allowed us to film the outside of the plantations, but not the living quarters or machinery. The workers we met with described the plantation quarters to us, and some of the images in the video are representative of those descriptions. We have clarified in the video that they are images from plantations nearby.
Wiltshire wrote, “How can anyone interested in honest debate take video footage of a run-down and untidy farm compound more than four miles from Harvard’s property and show that facility with a voice over claiming it is evidence of Harvard’s poor management and worker housing?” We apologize that the origin of that footage was unclear, although no voice-over claims that those images are evidence of Harvard’s management.
Images shown during the worker interview in the video are from Harvard’s plantations, as noted in the video. All descriptions from him, and the still images of bat droppings and spiders, are from inside EVASA’s living quarters.