BURLINGTON - As international pressure mounts on the African nation of Sudan to end years of genocide against the people of Darfur, the University of Vermont is nearly fully divested of companies that support the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
As Seven Days reported in April ["UVM Committee's STAND: Divest Now," April 26], UVM's Committee on Socially Responsible Investing voted unanimously to recommend that the board of trustees adopt a "targeted divestment" policy, which involves severing all financial ties with companies that provide financial and/or military support to the Sudanese regime in Khartoum. Targeted divestment is generally aimed at the oil, energy, weapons and telecommunications sectors, but not at industries that benefit the civilian population.
To date, more than 400,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million displaced in more than three years of bloody conflict. Since the Sudan divestment movement began two years ago, more than 30 colleges and six states around the country have restricted or eliminated their Sudan-related holdings.
UVM's divestment plan was largely inspired by the efforts of the campus group, Students Take Action Now: Darfur, led by then-seniors Jeffrey Skoldberg, a business major, and Achier Mou, a native of Sudan. The board formally adopted the divestment policy at its May meeting, based on a strategy used by other colleges and universities around the country.
Throughout the summer and fall, a "Sudan Divestment Working Group" contacted UVM's fund managers and directed them to either sell or not buy holdings in 20 of the most offending companies. UVM's non-U.S. equities holdings total about $39.1 million, though UVM Trustee John Snow, who heads the working group, noted that its Sudan-friendly holdings were fairly minimal. "What we determined is that while it's de minimis in terms of dollar value, it is very significant in terms of symbolic value," he said.
Only one UVM investment fund still has significant holdings in an offending company. Ironically, that fund is another socially responsible investment - the S&P 500 Tobacco-Free Index Fund. Snow said the group is still wrestling with what to do about this "pooled" fund, which involves other large institutional investors.
"It's an interesting ethical question. Is one [issue] more important than the other?" Snow asked. "The answer we're trying to get is, no, they're both important, and we have to find a way to implement both." Currently, a combined Sudan-free and tobacco-free investment fund does not exist.
Nevertheless, Snow expects UVM to be fully divested of all its Sudan-friendly holdings in the next two to three months. "That may not sound like much," he added, "but for a university, that is lightning speed."
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