Mark Brandon is the Managing Partner of First Sustainable (http://www.firstsustainable.com), a registered investment advisory catering to socially responsible investors. In addition to Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), he may opine on social venturing, microfinance, community investing, clean technology commercialization, sustainability public policy, green products, and, on occasion, University of Texas Longhorn sports.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Is Your Pension Invested in Sudan?

Thanks to legislation enacted in 1997 by the Clinton Administration, U.S. companies are expressly prohibited from doing business in Sudan. However, U.S. public pensions are not prohibited from investing in companies that have ties to Sudan. These could be foreign-registered publicly traded securities or foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies (which despite the legislation are not exempt). According to the activist web site sudandivestment.com, $91 Billion dollars of U.S. public pension dollars are still invested in these companies. Click here to see if yours is included.

Activists are using the South African model to target the Sudanese regime. It is widely acknowledged that divestment succeeded where sanctions and diplomacy failed in South Africa. The reasoning was that unless the white power structure felt the economic pain, Apartheid would continue to be the law. Specifically targeting large institutional investors got the attention of the multi-nationals who ignored the public opinion. Company after company withdrew from South Africa, and eventually, the system collapsed.

Obviously, it is unclear if this method will work, since the situation is markedly different. Whereas the South African problem was about keeping a certain race subjugated, the Sudan problem is about a bunch of ruthless thugs out to get the nation's oil wealth. Russian and Chinese oil companies are the biggest supporters.

Nevertheless, public pensions are run by those that are concerned with politics. If enough citizens raise a stink, they can be persuaded to divest. Notable institutional investors that have pledged to divest include the State of Illinois, the Harvard Endowment, Yale Endowment, Dartmouth Endowment, and the Stanford Endowment.

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