A call to divest from injustice

March 5, 2013

Anna McConnell and Kristian Davis Bailey report on the move by student activists to make Stanford University divest from companies complicit in Palestinian oppression.

ON MARCH 5 at 7 p.m., the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) will vote on a divestment bill presented by Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER). Activists are seeking support from others around the world in encouraging our student senate to stand on the right side of history.

SPER has presented to the senate a criteria-based, selective divestment campaign focused on multinational companies with explicit ties to human rights and humanitarian law violations in Palestine.

Stanford has a $17 billion endowment--the fourth largest of an American educational institution--which it maintains by investment in public equity, private equity, real estate, natural resources and other areas. Stanford also claims to maintain a commitment to ethical investment, stating:

[W]hen the Trustees determine that the corporate policies or practices of a company Stanford may invest in could cause substantial social injury they, as responsible and ethical investors, shall give independent weight to this factor in determining Investment Responsibility Policies and Proxy Voting Guidelines for corporate securities.

Students and faculty at an NYU rally to launch a divestment campaign
Activists call for divestment from Israel

SPER's bill calls for the Board of Trustees to use four criteria when deciding whether to divest from a particular company: 1) Does the company facilitate acts of collective punishment? 2) Does the company operate in Israeli-only settlements in the West Bank? 3) Does the company support the "separation barrier" that annexes Palestinian land in the West Bank? 4) Does the company engage in practices that institutionally discriminate against individuals or groups?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then Stanford should remove its money from the offending companies.

In particular, SPER's current bill calls for immediate divestment from three companies that violate these criteria: Caterpillar, Riwal and Veolia. When these multinational companies rake in profits that at least partly result from discriminating against people in the Palestinian territories, illegally demolishing Palestinian homes, building a separation barrier that is taller than the Berlin Wall, or using military equipment against civilian populations, it must be condemned.

DIVESTMENT WOULD put Stanford in line with international law and also hold the university accountable to its own standards of responsible and ethical investment, as well as to its founding grant, which specifies promoting the public welfare.

The university has not confirmed whether it has investments in any specific companies targeted by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but given existing formal ties with several of them, it is likely that Stanford's money is invested in at least some. For example, the Graduate School of Business invited the CEO of Caterpillar to speak last spring as part of its "View from the Top" lecture series, and Veolia operates the campus shuttle system.

Members of SPER at Stanford know that they are not alone in this fight. The campaign has received official support from the Asian American Students' Association, Black Student Union, La Familia, MEChA, the International Socialist Organization, Muslim Student Awareness Network, NAACP, National Lawyers Guild, Occupy Stanford, Stanford Asian American Activism Committee, Stanford Friends of Tibet, Stanford Immigrant Rights Project, Stanford Labor Action Coalition, Stanford Students for Queer Liberation and Stanford Says No to War.

At the ASSU meeting on February 26, there was a powerful show of support from students from more than 10 different student groups. Perhaps for the first time, SPER activists realized that this bill was no longer just a dream, but a reality. Momentum has continued to build, with amazing international support from prominent activists and Palestinian students.

Stanford students are standing up. We are standing with our fellow activists at University of California-San Diego who will vote on their own divestment bill this week. We are standing with Stanford allies who know that an injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Most importantly, we are standing with the Palestinian people who are fighting every day for a better world.

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