During our nearly 50 years of operation, Third Sector New England has repeatedly witnessed non-profit organizations serving as the primary stewards of our core societal values. Nonprofits have been at the forefront of the struggle for fair labor standards, creating Great Society safeguards for the U.S. population, and sharing cultural understanding among the nation’s diverse groups. We’ve seen nonprofits mobilize ordinary citizens to be part of the modern civil rights, women’s and environmental movements to bring powerful changes to our communities and to society as a whole.
Along the way, non-profit organizations have learned that exerting moral pressure to bring about social change both in the United States and worldwide is reinforced when financial pressure is added to the equation. It is no coincidence that the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the financial pressure that it exerted on the city’s bus lines, was the turning point in the civil rights movement. The South African divestment movement of the 1980s gave us a new, effective tool to promote change. This tactic has since been used to persuade the Burmese military junta to begin negotiations with democratic factions.
Taking a Stand
Targeted divestment can be, according to Johanna Chao Rittenburg, a TSNE board member and program manager for economic justice at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a powerful and effective tool to stop the genocide in Sudan. The genocide against the black African population has already claimed more than 200,000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people.
That’s why, at the suggestion of Chao Rittenburg, TSNE sent a letter in mid-October to TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, College Retirement Equities Fund), TSNE’s pension program provider, pressing the financial giant to “give serious consideration to targeted divestment as an appropriate response to the ongoing genocide in Sudan.” The letter was sent to John Wilcox, head of Corporate Governance.
The model for targeted divestment has been developed by the Sudan Divestment Task Force in consultation with foreign policy experts, asset managers, third-party research firms and other institutions. According to the group, this policy allows for maximum impact on the government of Sudan while minimizing harms to both Sudanese citizens and to portfolio returns. Essentially the criteria targets companies that:
- Contribute to government revenue
- Impart minimal benefit to the country’s underprivileged
- Have demonstrated no substantial corporate governance policy regarding the Darfur situation
Concerned about the genocide in Sudan, TIAA-CREF has been working to apply pressure from within companies which have not accepted divestment from Sudan as an effective or appropriate strategy. But nonprofits like TSNE are joining together to ask TIAA-CREF to divest from these companies in full. TIAA-CREF, as the nation’s largest private pension fund, can begin a ripple effect among pension funds – and ultimately reach U.S. companies by affecting their corporate profits. As with South Africa and Burma, divestment is a sure way to encourage companies to refuse to do business with the genocidal Sudanese government.
Additionally, more than a half-dozen states have already approved restrictions on their Sudan investments, and there is pending divestment legislation in 20 other states. And ex-Sudan investment offerings have been or are being developed by asset managers such as Barclays, Northern Trust and State Street Global Advisors.
Nonprofits Lead the Way
If TIAA-CREF is your pension fund provider, you can join the effort to press the financial powerhouse to engage in targeted divestment from companies doing business with the Sudanese government. Visit iAbolish: the American Anti-Slavery Group to find out how. According to iAbolish, TIAA-CREF sold all its shares six years ago of Talisman Energy. Revenue from the Canadian oil company had enabled the Sudanese government to buy arms in its war against the South to gain access to oil fields. A pull-out led by TIAA-CREF caused the company’s share price to drop by 35 percent, and it quickly left Sudan. TIAA-CREF should again lead investors in pulling out of corporations willing to ignore and abet genocide if it leads to more profits.
You can also visit a number of other nonprofits’ websites to learn more about the genocide in Sudan and what your nonprofit can do to end the humanitarian and human rights crises:
- Genocide Intervention Network
- Human Rights First
- International Crisis Group
- Save Darfur
- Sudan Tribune
- Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
- Voice of Sudan
In the ED Forum, TSNE’s Executive Director Jonathan Spack reflects on issues facing non-profit organizations in and around the Boston area and across the nation. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanSpack.