For Immediate Release
PHR has joined international, national, and regional religious and anti-genocide organizations who have rallied behind an unprecedented shareholder proposal designed to ensure that mainstream mutual funds avoid investments that contribute to genocide. The official supporters include the Genocide Intervention Network, The ENOUGH Project, the Sudan Divestment Taskforce, The Aegis Trust and the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), and American Jewish World Service (AJWS).
"As an organization that has been documenting the human rights abuses in Darfur since the conflict began, PHR is proud to support this shareholder resolution which draws the line at genocide," stated Frank Donaghue, Chief Executive Officer of PHR. "In the case of Darfur, pressuring mutual funds to not pursue investments which directly and indirectly support the Sudanese regime, which is responsible for war crimes in Darfur, is an essential step towards ending the killing and displacement of civilians."
More organizational supporters are expected to sign on in coming weeks and months as the campaign continues to gain momentum. This broad coalition is encouraging shareholders to vote for a shareholder proposal that asks mutual funds to institute oversight procedures to screen out investments in companies that, in the judgment of the fund's Board, substantially contribute to genocide. The proposal has been filed with 28 of Fidelity's mutual funds and dozens of funds from other companies including Barclays, Franklin Templeton, T. Rowe Price, and Vanguard.
Shareholder voting has begun in preparation for shareholder meetings on March 19 for twelve Fidelity funds, among them, Fidelity's $72.9 billion Contrafund. Shareholders of other Fidelity funds will vote on the genocide-free investing shareholder proposal at meetings scheduled for April 16 and May 14. Fidelity's fund management is advising its shareholders to vote against this proposal.
"Investors Against Genocide is giving concerned citizens across the country a voice to say no to investments that support the Sudanese government," stated Frank Donaghue, "which is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 and the rape and displacement of hundreds of thousands more."
The shareholder proposal for genocide-free investing raises the issue of the fundamental management responsibilities of financial institutions and whether shareholders should be able to expect mainstream funds to be genocide-free. A 2007 study by KRC Research, showed that 71% of respondents said companies should take into account extreme cases of human rights abuses, such as genocide, when investing overseas, rather than base their investment decisions on economic criteria only.
According to Eric Cohen, chairperson of Investors Against Genocide, the non-profit organization that is leading the shareholder action, urges people who own affected Fidelity mutual funds to watch their mail and email and vote their proxy ballots. Shareholders who have already discarded their ballots, or would like to change an earlier vote, can do so right up until the meeting is held on the 19th. Shareholders can contact their Fidelity representative for information on how to vote, or re-vote. According to Cohen, many mutual fund investors don't read or vote their proxies because the questions considered are typically routine. "Many shareholders will be unaware of this first opportunity to vote for genocide-free investing," he says. "For this reason, we do not expect our proposal to pass on March 19."
However, as more shareholders become aware of this proposal, and as the proposal comes before additional funds in the coming months, Cohen believes that that they will support genocide-free investing. "Ultimately, we are confident that this resolution will prevail, even though we do not expect a large number of favorable votes at the March 19 meeting." Many US investment firms have huge holdings of shares in PetroChina, a Chinese oil company that is one of the worst offenders among companies helping to fund the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Some of the largest holders of PetroChina include the well-known and widely held mutual fund firms Franklin Templeton, American Funds, Fidelity, and Vanguard.
Hundreds of thousands have been killed and 2.5 million have been driven from their homes, in Darfur. This humanitarian crisis has been labeled by the US government as the first genocide of the 21st century. The government of Sudan has continued to pursue genocide in Darfur for nearly five years, using as much as 70% of its oil revenue to provide arms and funding for the genocide, rather than economic development for the poor people of Sudan. Although federal law prevents most US companies from operating in Sudan, American financial institutions, notably mutual fund companies, are major investors in the Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian oil companies which have massive investments in Sudan, and are thus helping to fund this genocide. As a result, ordinary investors, through their mutual funds, family savings, and pension plans entrusted to these financial institutions are inadvertently investing in genocide.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.