Thursday, April 26, 2007

Darfur, Money, and My Conscience

Here is the text of an email which I sent out to all of my coworkers and colleagues today, including our non-profit corporation's CEO and CFO:

Dear All,

It has come to my attention that Fidelity, the company through whom we are all investing in our IRA’s, is heavily invested in two Chinese companies----PetroChina and Sinopec---which are directly feeding the economic forces causing the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. For those of you not familiar with the Darfur situation, here is a brief snippet:

  • Sudan and its government-sponsored Janjaweed militia have committed pervasive violations of human rights in Darfur, Sudan, since early 2003, earning the designation of the first genocide of the 21st century.
  • The atrocities taking place in Darfur, Sudan, have been identified as genocide by unanimous declaration of Congress in July 2004, by two Secretaries of State, and by the President of the United States.
  • The genocide in Darfur has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the displacement of millions of Darfurians, and is continuing to claim victims.
  • There is a well-established link between the oil industry in Sudan and the revenue of the Government of Sudan which overwhelmingly goes to increased arms and funding of the genocide in Darfur.
  • Fidelity, through its mutual funds, not only has been a major investor in two of the largest oil companies operating in Sudan, PetroChina (through its parent CNPC) and Sinopec (aka China Petroleum), but it has been significantly increasing its holdings in these tainted companies.
  • Fidelity is the largest holder of PetroChina on the New York Stock Exchange. Counting Fidelity's holdings around the world, Fidelity owns 5% of the outstanding shares of PetroChina, worth $1.3 billion, as of their February 14, 2007 SEC filing.
  • PetroChina's closely related parent, CNPC, is Sudan's largest partner in the oil industry there. We hold PetroChina accountable, just as we would CNPC, since the "separation between these two companies is largely cosmetic" and they "should not be rewarded" for creating distinctions on paper to obscure their connections to the genocide.
  • US law prohibits American companies from doing business in Sudan, yet Americans are legally able to invest in foreign companies operating in Sudan. Over the last two years, many large investors, including US colleges and states pension funds, have made the responsible decision to divest from PetroChina and Sinopec.

I have spoken with Fidelity representatives, and they report that no official statement has been made by Fidelity as to whether the company will divest from companies which fuel the genocide. In fact, Fidelity’s holdings are increasing as other companies divest from Sinopec and PetroChina.

For myself, I have a rollover IRA which is invested in the Domini Social Equity Fund, a socially responsible mutual fund which does not invest in companies with poor records vis-a-vis human rights, workers rights, environmental practices, the military-industrial complex, etc. However, Fidelity still earns money on my investments with Domini, something with which I am increasingly uncomfortable. However, my bi-weekly deposits of money from my paycheck do indeed go into a Fidelity Freedom account, and this is even more unfortunate.

So, in a perfect world, Fidelity would divest from PetroChina and Sinopec and we could all leave our money where it is without another thought. I doubt that will happen. In the next perfect world, our company would change plans (or offer another choice) and we could all have the option of leaving Fidelity. In the worst scenario for me, I will stop my voluntary contributions, withdraw my money from Fidelity, and open my own IRA, therefore losing the benefit of employer contributions. I assume that the last choice may be the one I will be forced to make.

If anyone would like more information or would like to follow up with me, please let me know. At the very least, I urge everyone to visit this link to read about Fidelity’s involvement and sign the petition to Fidelity. On Sunday, Mary and I and our son will travel to be at a massive demonstration on the Boston Common (partly organized by my niece, a student at Tufts) against the genocide in Darfur, followed by a march to the Fidelity offices downtown.

Thanks for your attention to this email which turned out to be longer than anticipated, and see me if you would like any more information.



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