WHEN WILL FIDELITY Investments stop funding Sudan’s civil war?
Fidelity holds some five million shares of stock in Canadian-based Talisman Energy, Inc., making it the company’s largest private investor. By virtue of that investment, Boston’s mutual-fund giant is supporting a company that contributes to slavery, murder, and famine in southern Sudan.
Since 1955, Sudan has been ripped apart by a bitter civil war: north versus south, Arabs versus Africans, Muslims versus Christians and animists. With the backing of the government in Khartoum, the northern Arab Muslims have long held the upper hand in this war, displacing and even enslaving southern Africans (see “Africa’s Invisible Slaves,” News, June 30, 1995). Since 1983, the most recent phase of the war has been fueled in part by the desire to control the southern Sudanese oil fields discovered by Chevron in the 1970s.
The government in Khartoum has made no secret of its desire to amass oil profits, with which it can buy helicopters, tanks, bombs, and guns to use on its southern neighbors. Indeed, the World Bank estimates that since oil profits began flowing into Khartoum, its military budget has doubled. (According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the Republic of Sudan spends $1.3 billion annually — $550 million of which is dedicated for military expenditures.) The southern oil fields themselves act as government strongholds, with soldiers camping nearby. The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have all documented the connection between oil profits and famine, murder, and slavery in southern Sudan. In May 2000, Amnesty International issued a scathing report titled “Sudan: The Human Price of Oil,” documenting how government troops have displaced and killed civilians who live around the Sudanese oil fields. This May, Amnesty published a follow-up report titled “Sudan: Talisman Energy Must Do More To Protect Human Rights,” in which it found “little evidence that the company has taken effective action in its area of operations to protect human rights of civilians as well as to prevent violations.” In 1997, then-president Bill Clinton issued an executive order banning American-based companies from doing business with Sudan.
In the summer of 1999, the American Anti-Slavery Group launched a divestment campaign against Talisman Energy, the only Western oil company doing business in Sudan. Since then, every major public institutional investor has sold its shares of stock in the company: the state of New York (353,000 shares); the state of New Jersey (700,000 shares); the California Public Employees Retirement System (300,000 shares); the Texas Teachers Retirement System (100,000 shares); New York City (186,000 shares); and the state of Wisconsin (180,000). In addition to these public investors, TIAA-CREF, which serves employees in higher education and is the largest private pension plan in the world, has sold its 300,000 shares of Talisman. And Vanguard Mutual Funds, Manning & Napier Investments, and the Presbyterian Church USA have all done the same.
It’s the most successful divestment protest since the 1980s campaign to get investors out of South Africa. Eric Reeves, a professor who has taken a leave from Smith College to research the Sudanese war, attributes the campaign’s success to evidence of “overwhelming human devastation in Sudan and the unambiguous corporate complicity in that devastation.”
Still, one target of the divestment campaign remains obdurate: Fidelity Investments. It’s hard to imagine that investors in Fidelity funds that hold stock in Talisman Energy would feel comfortable knowing that their investment is financing slavery and death. Yet the mutual-fund giant remains impervious to pleas for divestment.
To be sure, it’s illegal for an institutional investor to sell shares of stock for any reason other than to maximize profit for investors, and Talisman’s market fundamentals haven’t changed; indeed, Talisman has been a good investment since the campaign was launched. During the summer of 1999, when the campaign began, a share of Talisman cost just over $26. Currently, when adjusted for splits and dividends, a share is worth $38.48.
But advocates count a successful divestment campaign as one in which 100 percent of the targeted shares are liquidated in the wake of “significant” pressure, even if that pressure is never cited as the reason. And that’s just what’s happened elsewhere. Every major public institutional investor has dumped its Talisman shares. Then there’s the story of TIAA-CREF. In December, divestment advocates turned up the pressure on the private pension fund. At a rally in Boston on December 3, 1999, students from Harvard, Tufts, Simmons, Suffolk, and Boston University spoke out against TIAA-CREF’s investment in Talisman. Four days later, recalls the American Anti-Slavery Group’s Jesse Sage (one of the protest’s organizers), TIAA-CREF had sold all its Talisman shares.
“What’s really remarkable about this [divestment drive] is that it has support from the far left and the far right,” says Sage. “You have people from Al Sharpton to Jesse Helms supporting this campaign. What we do here in Boston can make a difference halfway around the world. Fidelity investors need to know they can make a difference.”
If you or your company does any business with Fidelity, you can make a difference, regardless of whether you own shares in Fidelity mutual funds that invest in Talisman. Or if you simply care about this issue, call Jeffrey Hamilton, assistant to Fidelity CEO Ned Johnson, and tell him you want Fidelity to divest its shares of Talisman Energy: (800) 771-7213. The American Anti-Slavery Group has also set up a protest Web site from which you can e-mail Hamilton directly at www.getactivehub.com/campaign/fidelity_protest. For more information about slavery in the Sudan or about the divestment campaign, visit www.iAbolish.com.
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