The University of Michigan is proud to have one of the largest endowments of any university in the world. It’s able to obtain this endowment through investments, mostly in stock. For example, the University may purchase $100,000 worth of stock in the corporation JP Morgan Chase, which entitles it to a corresponding fraction of the profits, known as dividends. This is one of the primary ways the University sustains itself financially.

However, the University’s investments aren’t always chosen with corporate social responsibility concerns in mind, and as students, this concerns us. For example, the University used to have investments in tobacco companies and corporations that profited off South African apartheid. In fact, these are the only cases in the University’s history in which the administration has chosen to divest, or sell our stock, due to concerns about socially irresponsible actions these corporations are engaging in.

Unfortunately, the University is still invested in a number of socially irresponsible corporations. A campus coalition, Practice What You Preach, has emerged to address these issues. We find these investments unacceptable and feel that it’s inappropriate for a university that values and preaches social justice to be invested in socially irresponsible corporations. Last week, we introduced a resolution to the Michigan Student Assembly requesting the University to divest from four corporations: Monsanto, British Petroleum, HanesBrands Inc., and Northrop Grumman. These four corporations exhibit particularly irresponsible conduct, unbecoming of our university. However, these aren’t the only corporations the University invests in that we feel act irresponsibly.

Monsanto, a biotechnology corporation, is responsible for the manufacture of Agent Orange, the chemical that led to thousands of deaths, birth defects and ecological destruction of thousands of acres of forests when it was dispersed by air during the Vietnam War. It is also responsible for massive leaks of toxic chemicals into local communities, in one case causing the government to order the evacuation of a city in Missouri. Additionally, Monsanto has facilitated the development of genetically modified foods, which many scientists have become concerned about due to their unknown impact on human health and the environment.

We don’t think we need to say much about BP, which is responsible for the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history that killed 11 people and caused irreversible ecological damage.

HanesBrands, a clothing manufacturer, is known for paying children in Bangladesh 6.5 cents per hour and forcing them to work 12 to 14 hours a day, often seven days a week, among other crimes.

Northrop Grumman, one of the world’s largest weapons developers and manufacturers has supplied military apparatuses accused of being used for war crimes by the United Nations fact-finding missions. An example of this is the Israeli military, which used Northrop Grumman parts for the Apache AH64D Longbow Helicopter, the radar system for F-16 combat jets and Longbow Hellfire II missiles. Israel’s military has used these systems to kill thousands of civilians, has violated numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions and has been widely accused of having committed war crimes by an independent, U.N. fact-finding mission.

There’s no doubt that any mention of Israel transforms our resolution from a normal statement regarding social justice into a document of intense controversy. As stated in an article by members of J Street UMich (Invest in peace, 04/05/2011), some believe that merely mentioning a corporation’s military connections with Israel unfairly places the blame for violence in the region on Israel alone.

However, one cannot represent the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a relatively even match, since Israel is heavily funded and has one of the most powerful militaries in the world and the biggest in the Middle East. In addition, there are no direct ties that the University has with those that make it possible for Palestinians to obtain weapons — and if there were, the connection would likely be weak. We don’t approve of any violence in the Middle East, but there’s no financial connection the University has with violence committed by Palestinians. If there were, we would believe in divestment in those companies as well.

It’s easy to dismiss this issue due to financial constraints. But when a family member was killed by one of Northrop Grumman’s weapons, or you lost your job on the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill, it’s suddenly not so easy to ignore. We feel that the University must acknowledge the faults of and divest from the irresponsible corporations it invests in if its claims to social justice are to be taken seriously.

Joseph Varilone is a Ford School of Public Policy junior. He is a member of Practice What You Preach.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.