Tag Archives: endorsement

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…

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HKS Student Government endorses RI@Harvard

Last night, the HKS Student Government voted to adopt the following motion:

Whereas  Harvard has a history of investing in ethically questionable activities, and the lack of transparency around Harvard’s investments makes it impossible for the community to know whether such investments exist today.

Whereas  The HKS endowment has been, and may currently be, invested in activities that are in direct conflict with the School’s mission to promote the public good. 

Whereas  Harvard should be proactive in incorporating responsible investment policies into its portfolio, rather than reacting to individual divestment campaigns on a case-by-case basis. 

Whereas  In October of 2011, a group of Harvard students, alumni, and community affiliates formed the coalition for Responsible Investment at Harvard with the intention of working with Harvard’s administration towards the promotion of more responsible investment practices for the University’s endowment.

Whereas This coalition has identified several recommendations for change, including:

(i)                 The integration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into all investment decisions, a move pursued by many large institutional investors, such as CalPERS;

(ii)                The expansion of the mandates of the Corporate Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR) and Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) beyond proxy voting to include considering:

a) petitions for the submission of a shareholder resolution to a particular company, submitted by the Harvard community
b) petitions for divestment from a particular company, submitted by the Harvard community

(iii)               The establishment of a social choice fund to provide donors with the opportunity to invest their commitments in activities that have a high return to Harvard and to society as a whole.

Be it resolved that the HKS Student Government officially endorse the aforementioned list of recommendation.

Be it further resolved that the HKS Student Government circulate notice of this endorsement to the Harvard University President, Provost, the Deans, and the CEO of the Harvard Management Company.

Be it further resolved that the HKS Student Government engage with the Harvard administration to see these goals implemented.

The Crimson endorses the Fair Harvard Fund

Read their staff editorial endorsing the Fair Harvard Fund and offering recommendations for its management here at thecrimson.com or below:

 

Funding Harvard More Fairly

Fair Harvard Fund is a commendable movement that should develop concretely

Once again, how Harvard manages its money is a target of attention, and deservedly so. Just last week, we commented in favor of Harvard’s pledge not to reinvest in HEI Hotels, a company widely alleged to have engaged in labor rights violations. At the same time, several students have begun the Fair Harvard Fund movement, which aims to make responsible investment a priority at Harvard. The main goal of this movement, which counts former undergraduate council president Senan Ebrahim ’12 as one of its founders, is the creation of a social choice fund to manage a portion of Harvard University’s endowment. Ideally, donors to Harvard would have the option of having their gifts managed by this particular fund, which would follow strict social, environmental, and governance criteria.

By incorporating a social choice fund into the management of our university’s endowment, the Harvard Management Company would send a positive signal to donors, the campus community, and the public at large. In order for this to be accomplished, the Fair Harvard Fund must continue its welcome presence on campus and work to see its goals develop concretely. Many institutions such as Brown University already have comparable options for their donors, and the market performances of such socially responsible funds have in fact been generally aligned with those of more traditional investment tools. By establishing a social choice fund, Harvard would likely be able to expand its endowment by attracting new inflows while simultaneously promoting ethically oriented business.

There are several steps that the Fair Harvard Fund could take to see its immediate objectives carried forward. To begin with, the students behind the movement have issued a statement endorsing a future town hall meeting, where the Harvard community could discuss the guidelines for socially responsible investment at our university. Although the intention of promoting “direct democracy” with a town hall meeting is certainly appealing, we should all be wary of using such  an open forum to determine the specific investment criteria of the Fair Harvard Fund. The term “social responsibility” is vague to start with, and the proposals generated from this kind of event might only complicate attempts to come up with a workable and ethical set of principles to act on. Instead, let us suggest an alternative: the social choice fund could follow the strict guidelines already set forth by the Responsible Endowments Coalition. These include a commitment to investing in companies that do not abuse their workers, as well as particular attention to ventures that uphold environmental sustainability. By employing both negative screening—refraining from investing in companies that are judged harmful to society—and positive screening—an active effort to boost businesses that advance environmental or welfare causes—the social choice fund could become an effective vehicle for tangible change in the local and wider community.

One of the current goals of the Fair Harvard Fund is to persuade the HMC to take over the administration of its assets. We urge the HMC to consider this proposal seriously, since there can only be benefits for both sides of the potential partnership, not to mention all who wish to see social choice investing become a reality at Harvard. On the one hand, by handing over its resources to the HMC, the Fair Harvard Fund would benefit from the supervision of established industry professionals. On the other hand, the HMC would have the opportunity to promote worthy causes alongside its continued management of the endowment at large, and presumably attract new donors who prioritize socially responsible investing.

As of today, the Fair Harvard Fund continues to solicit donations from members of the university community. With the constructive potential of its vision, the movement surely has a bright future. With the recent experience of HEI to serve as a reminder, we should all push for a Harvard where fairness is not merely option and an interest, but a priority.

Perspective Magazine endorses RI@Harvard

Perspective Magazine, Harvard’s Liberal Monthly, endorses Responsible Investment at Harvard in this month’s staff editorial. You can read it here or below!

With an endowment of $32 billion, Harvard is the second wealthiest nonprofit institution in the world, following the Vatican. Harvard’s power stems not only from its research, teaching, and reputation, but also from this wealth. If the Harvard Management Company (HMC), which manages the university’s endowment, invests in certain businesses and funds, it can help socially beneficial ventures succeed; if it invests in certain other companies, it can perpetuate social and environmental injustice. Unfortunately, HMC has too often taken the latter path. Therefore, we at Perspective endorse the efforts of a new student group, Responsible Investment at Harvard, which aims to make Harvard’s investment practices transparent, accountable, and socially responsible.

Over the years, there have been numerous campaigns to end Harvard’s least ethical investments, particularly those in companies and countries that have consistently violated human rights. For instance, concerned students, faculty, staff, and administrators have in past years successfully convinced HMC to divest from apartheid South Africa, tobacco companies, and PetroChina, a corporation that partnered with (and provided funding for) the Sudanese government during the genocide in Darfur. Most recently, as a result of pressure from the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM), Occupy Harvard, and others, HMC announced that it would reconsider its investments in HEI Hotels and Resorts, a company known for its sweatshop-labor practices and legal troubles with the National Labor Relations Board. Single-target campaigns such as these have often achieved great victories, and Perspective supports the current campaign for the university not to reinvest in HEI. However, in order to ensure that Harvard invests responsibly and transparently in the long run, a more comprehensive campaign is necessary.

People concerned with responsible investment often speak in jargon, but while the particulars may be complex, the underlying principles are straightforward. A responsible investment platform requires investors not to invest in companies that endanger people’s health or welfare, violate fundamental rights, or harm the environment. At the same time, they should invest in companies that aid sustainable development and provide valuable jobs, goods, and services while respecting human dignity. For instance, Harvard could invest in companies that are attempting to create permanent jobs in Allston or that are developing affordable medical diagnostic tools for doctors and patients in the developing world. Both transparency and accountability are widely viewed as necessary to ensure consistent responsible investment. For instance, GreenReportCard.org counts “endowment transparency” along with variables such as “climate change and energy” and “green building” when determining the overall environmental sustainability of a college or university. Harvard, unfortunately, gets a C on endowment transparency, which indicates that too many of the university’s investments are shrouded in mystery. Without transparency, neither the Harvard community nor the general public can hold the university accountable.

The Harvard Management Company may view responsible investment as a hindrance to financial success. However, according to Principles for Responsible Investment, a United Nations affiliate, responsible investment practiced strategically can lead to increased long-term returns and decreased long-term risk. Given that these investments produce sustainable growth and don’t have harmful side effects, these benefits are not surprising. It is clear that responsible investments are good for everyone involved.

The student group Responsible Investment at Harvard (RI@Harvard for short) is a coalition of people involved in various environmental, labor, and social justice issues on campus. RI@Harvard is working on several campaigns to transform the nature of Harvard’s investments. In the long term, it intends to convince HMC to adopt a standard protocol for disclosing investments and to incorporate social and environmental concerns into all investment decisions. In the nearer future, RI@Harvard hopes by the end of the semester to create a responsible investment fund for the university, an idea pioneered by Brown in 2007, to which donors can choose to give their money. RI@Harvard intends to convince a large portion of the senior class to donate their senior gift to this social choice fund or “shadow endowment” and to build alumni support for it from there. A social choice fund would represent a powerful first step towards responsible investment generally, for in addition to the concrete result of moving funds, it would demonstrate to the university that this issue is important to a wide cross-section of the Harvard community.

RI@Harvard also hopes to reform the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) and the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (CCSR), the two committees that deal (to some extent) with social responsibility in investing. We agree with RI@Harvard that these entities should have more power so that they can move beyond shareholder proxy votes to make real decisions about investments. We particularly support increased power for the ACSR, which consists of faculty, students, and alumni. Perspectivealso urges the university to increase the student and faculty presence on the ACSR and to create more formal opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to voice their opinions on investments. Hopefully, these changes will make Harvard Management Company more accountable to the entire university population.

As a nonprofit institution, Harvard receives generous tax exemptions because it is assumed to serve the public good. As a center of teaching and learning, Harvard College, according to its mission statement, encourages students to “rejoice in…critical thought…assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions…promote understanding, and serve society.” The time has come for Harvard to put its money where its mouth is. If incoming students are encouraged (or pressured, according to some) to sign a pledge to uphold the university’s values, then surely the university itself must uphold these values. To promote understanding and critical thought, Harvard should disclose its investments, so that students can think for themselves about whether these investments are just. To encourage students to take responsibility for their actions, the university must lead by example, and take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of its portfolio. Ultimately, Harvard does not set an example for just its own students; as one of the world’s leading universities, it sets an example for countless for-profit and nonprofit institutions. Thus, responsible investment at Harvard would energize an already-growing movement for responsible investment around the world.