students for social investing

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Mon Nov 8 07:42:16 PST 1999

Chronicle of Higher Education - web daily - November 8, 1999


Student activists from more than 100 colleges gathered at Yale University over the weekend to form a new coalition aimed at pressuring colleges not to invest in businesses that its members view as socially irresponsible.

"We have the power on our campuses to influence how universities invest, and, in turn, university investment really has a huge impact on corporate policy, because universities have very large endowments," said Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, a spokeswoman for the new organization, called the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations.

About 430 students from across the country were on hand to draft a set of guiding principles for the group. They resolved to try to monitor and improve corporate behavior in eight areas: human rights; labor rights; indigenous peoples' rights; equity, diversity, and nondiscrimination; product safety; animal rights; respect for the environment; and public disclosure of their activities.

Terra Lawson-Remer, a senior at Yale and one of the co-founders of the alliance, said she sees the group as the progression of a new student activist movement that has been successful in persuading some institutions to more closely monitor the conditions in factories that produce clothing sold with institutional logos.

A number of colleges have insisted that manufacturers make public the locations of factories where college apparel is made, allowing human-rights organizations to more easily monitor working conditions. Last month, Gear for Sports became the second major apparel maker, after Nike, to announce that it would make public its factory sites.

"A lot of us see this as the next step, to go beyond single-issue based activism," said Ms. Lawson-Remer. She said that a lot of work remains to be done in stamping out sweatshops, but "the momentum is on our side. It's time to look at what do we do next."

She said the students would demand, among other things, a student voice in investment decisions by their institutions. In order to reach that goal, Ms. Lawson-Remer predicted that there could be a new wave of student activism involving sit-ins and other protests, like those that marked the anti-sweatshop movement.

"We expect students will do whatever it takes to be effective," said Ms. Lawson-Remer. "At some schools, we expect the administration will take our proposals and say, 'Great, let's do this.' At a place like Yale, it's going to be a long battle, and it's going to take that kind of pressure."

Yale has had a policy since 1972 of considering the ethical and legal conduct of the corporations in which it is investing. The university also has an Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, made up of students, faculty members, staff members, and alumni who consider investing issues. However, the Yale Corporation, the institution's Board of Trustees, does not release details about how it invests the university's endowment, said Tom Conroy, a Yale spokesman.

Because no one can independently monitor the investments, Ms. Lawson-Remer said Yale's policy "has no teeth."

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