STAND Pushes for Investment, Not Divestment

Stanford University is the first university to adopt an investment policy aimed at helping to prevent atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo caused by “conflict minerals.” Stanford STAND, a student anti-genocide coalition, led the initiative to approve the new proxy-voting guideline with help from Stanford faculty, alumni, and students.

According to the guideline, the University will now, “vote in favor of well-written and reasonable shareholder resolutions that ask companies for reports on their policies and efforts regarding their avoidance of conflict minerals and conflict mineral derivatives.”

Stanford serves as a powerful institutional investor in many technology companies, and the University votes on shareholder resolutions for these companies.  This proxy-voting guideline now dictates that Stanford will vote in favor of shareholder resolutions asking companies to report the sources of minerals in their products.****

The majority of “conflict minerals” come from the D.R.C. Illegally controlled mines supply minerals, like tin and tantalum, which are then smuggled out of the country. Eventually, the minerals find their way into most electronic products, including cell phones and laptops. Armed militias fight for control of the mines and smuggling routes, too.

Such conflicts have caused civilian deaths and other atrocities.  Additionally, the D.R.C. has suffered from two civilian wars since 1996.  In the D.R.C., over 5.4 million people have died because of this conflict, according to the International Rescue Committee.  U.S. envoy Margot Wallstrom deemed the D.R.C. as the “rape capital of the world.”

Mia Newman, co-president of Stanford STAND, declared that****STAND’s effort, “is not divestment.  Instead, it’s about using Stanford’s investment voice.”

STAND wanted Stanford to “make a statement about the issue of conflict minerals because no major institution had done anything like that.”

Newman said that the guidelines will create a “demand for economic responsibility.”  By creating a demand for companies to move toward conflict-free minerals, STAND hopes that Stanford’s investment power will persuade companies to better research the source of these minerals.

STAND first considered using the ASSU as means for advocating their guidelines. This method was utilized previously by Campaign Restore Hope, a campus campaign aimed at divestment from certain companies in Israel. That campaign chose to work with the ASSU Senate on a bill of student support for divestment before approaching the Board of Trustees.

However, for STAND, the “more direct path,” was to work directly with the administration.

STAND first worked with the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing.  This panel has a subcommittee on human rights which collaborated with STAND in drafting the language of the proxy-voting guidelines.

After perfecting the wording of the guidelines, the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing unanimously approved the guidelines. From there, STAND approached the Board of Trustees. The new proxy-voting guidelines were successfully approved last June.

Just like Stanford, STAND is part of a larger network of STAND chapters. STAND’s accomplishments on Stanford’s campus are part of a larger national movement to raise awareness about conflict minerals in the D.R.C. in hopes of “a world without genocide”, in the words of Andrea Huang, STAND’s National Student Director.

Most notably, the recent Congressional financial reform bill contained a provision under the section entitled “Miscellaneous Provisions” that will change the way companies release information about the sources of minerals found in their products.  This provision will apply to electronic companies, but also firms that use tin and gold.

STAND’s involvement with the bill included “organizing meetings between students and their [Congress representatives] to advocate for that provision,” stated Daniel Solomon, STAND’s National Advocacy Coordinator.

Under this provision, the Securities and Exchange Commission will require companies to report whether or not the source of minerals in their products hails from Congo or other nearby regions.  If companies admit to using materials from this conflict-torn region, the company will be expected to report what it is doing to trace the minerals’ origins.

STAND acknowledges that American consumption habits may not change as a result from this provision.  Instead, “[STAND] would like companies to be more publicly transparent.”

STAND is hoping to move forward with new initiatives now that it reached two major milestones within the last year.  Solomon advocated for “[more] universities to follow Stanford’s lead” and also encourage “students to advocate for the inclusion of conflict-free technology on campus.”

Although not available yet, Solomon hopes that creating demand for such technology will encourage companies to better track the sources of minerals in their products.

Currently at Stanford, STAND is looking to spread awareness about the election in Sudan and ongoing violence in Burma. All the while, STAND’s advocacy efforts are helping put Stanford at the forefront of the human rights movement. STAND looks forward to furthering their progress in the upcoming year.

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