Think global, act local’ is a common message promoted by awareness groups on our campus. It could very well be the case that we are able to encourage positive socioeconomic change through our actions here at the University. However, we ought to take a closer look at the ways in which we seek to make change, and the impact of such initiatives. If we are truly concerned with change that has global implications we need to identify the structures and institutions that are, in part, responsible for creating the deplorable social, economic and environmental conditions we wish to ameliorate. Socially responsible investing is one way in which the UR community can foster positive change across the globe.
Our endowment stands at approximately $1.7 billion. Its management is complex, but what is important to know is that a portion of the endowment is strategically invested to yield profits, which helps our endowment grow and allows the University to function as the institution we know and love. Our university, however, is currently invested in multi-national corporations that are involved in vast environmental degradation, war profiteering, unethical labor practices and other human rights abuses spanning multiple continents according to investment information disclosed upon request from The Office of Institutional Resources, Spring 2012. One such corporation is Chevron-Texaco. In a report issued by Amnesty International regarding the destruction of the Amazonian ecosystem in Ecuador, Chevron-Texaco “intentionally dumped more than 19 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the region and was responsible for 16.8 million gallons of crude oil spilling into the rain forest” among other heinous ecological crimes. Chevron-Texaco has refused to aid in mitigation efforts despite being found guilty of rampant pollution by Ecuadorian courts in 2011. Such negligence has grave implications for Ecuador and beyond.
Another corporation we are invested in that is wreaking havoc in the developing world is Monsanto, the second largest producer of genetically modified seeds. Monsanto’s predatory business practices have put farmers and their families into severe debt, which contributes to an estimated 1,000 farmer suicides each month in India alone. Monsanto’s profit comes at great ecological, economic and social cost to farming communities and global food security.
General Dynamics, another corporation that our school is invested in, directly profits from war. As the fourth largest defense contractor, they manufacture weapons, vehicles and gear that aid in the proliferation of armed conflict worldwide. The military-industrial complex is soaked in the blood of innocent people from here and abroad. We should do our best to minimize our involvement with firms and institutions whose only motive, profit, is advanced through the perpetuation of warfare. General Dynamics has also been found guilty of discriminating against African American and female employees, in addition to violating health and safety regulations set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on multiple occasions.
Last but certainly not least; our university is invested in J.P. Morgan Chase. Chase was one of the firms responsible for our recent financial meltdown, having been involved extensively with subprime and predatory lending. Chase and other major banks knowingly participated in the lucrative and unregulated sale of faulty mortgages. When the house of cards came crashing down, they were first in line for aid, receiving $94.7 billion in the taxpayer funded, government-backed bailout of 2008. Today, they remain one of the most vocal opponents of federal regulation to discourage the practices that caused a global economic collapse just four years ago. Chase has been issuing eviction orders across the nation during the ongoing foreclosure crisis. These evictions are often executed by taxpayer funded police departments. After a $94.7 billion bailout, I guess the joke is on us.
During the peak of the housing boom in 2006, The Center For American Progress reported that J.P. Morgan Chase and their affiliates were more likely to steer black and Latino applicants than white applicants into higher priced subprime mortgages: 47.5 percent of black borrowers and 36.6 percent of Latino borrowers in comparison to 16.4 percent of white borrowers. This racial disparity was not reproduced, but in fact greater at higher income levels. This raises questions about institutional racism and discrimination in the bank’s lending practices and the way the foreclosure crisis continues to play out in towns and cities across the nation.
The examples above suggest the interests of multi-national corporations conflict with ethical labor practices, environmental stewardship and other humanistic, socially just and progressive values. The fact that we are stakeholders of this university implies that we have a say in how funds from the endowment are being used, particularly when these funds are invested in corporations complicit in such reprehensible activities. Let us collectively develop a more ethical framework for managing our endowment — an initiative undertaken successfully by peer institutions like Columbia University, The University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University.
If we truly wish to have a global impact by acting locally, we ought to seek more transparency as to how the endowment is managed, question our university’s investment in corporate entities engaged in irresponsible, destructive behavior and ultimately divest from socially irresponsible companies. The best way to ensure the sustainability of such an initiative is the establishment of a democratically elected committee of students, faculty and staff to oversee the endowment and the utilization of its resources in accordance to the core value of this institution, Meliora. Our endowment should not grow at the expense of other human beings or the environment. The next step is a forum that fosters meaningful community and campus-wide dialogue regarding alternative financial structures that provide fair returns on an ethically invested endowment.
Let us put our money where our mouths are, and begin to truly engage in the practice of thinking globally whilst acting locally.
Alani is a Take Five Scholar.