From the Worldwide Faith News archives

GA urged to add oil company to divestment list

Date 24 Feb 2001 12:33:14

Note #6402 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


GA urged to add oil company to divestment list

Canadian firm too close to Sudan war and human-rights abuses

by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE -- The General Assembly Council (GAC) of the Presbyterian Church
(USA) is recommending that one of the world's largest oil companies be added
to the General Assembly's corporate divestment "hit list."

The GAC unanimously approved a recommendation from the National Ministries
Division (NMD) Committee on Friday, Feb. 23 to add Talisman Energy Inc., to
the denomination's divestment list, barring church entities from owning
stock in the Canadian-headquartered company.

The recommendation -- acted on during the GAC's meeting at the Hyatt Regency
here -- originated with the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through
Investment (MRTI), which said Talisman should be included on the list
because of its ties to Sudan's 17-year-old civil war. The Calgary petroleum
giant drills for oil in Sudan, with royalties going to the Sudanese
government to fuel its 17-year-old civil war and its frequent human
atrocities, MRTI said in a written report to GAC.

"The MRTI committee decided that the Talisman situation merited a divestment
recommendation according to these criteria," MRTI said in its report. "The
General Assembly has spoken out for decades on behalf of human rights as
derived from God, in whose image human beings are made. The church through
MRTI has also engaged corporations about their responsibilities when
operating in countries with serious human-rights abuses."

A small but vocal group within the PC(USA) actively supports the divestment
campaign. The Rev. William Somplatsky-Jarman, associate for MRTI, said he
knows of no PC(USA) entities that now own stock in the company.

MRTI is responsible for assessing firms' compliance with General Assembly
policies such as those on environmental protection, human rights and labor
practices. MRTI also combines GA-approved social screens with shareholder
engagement through proxy voting, dialogues with corporate executives, and
filing shareholder resolutions on the issues. Members of MRTI unanimously
approved the Talisman recommendation during a Jan. 20 meeting in Tucson, AZ.

If this summer's 213th General Assembly in Louisville adopts MRTI's
recommendation, PC(USA)-related investing entities would effectively be
barred from buying or holding stock in Talisman, the world's third largest
oil company. Last year's GA in Long Beach, CA, called upon MRTI to monitor
the situation in Sudan and decide whether divestment would be appropriate.

General Assembly divestment policies focus on tobacco-product manufacturers
and military-related companies. Talisman would join a veritable "who's who"
of major corporate giants on the GA divestment list of 20 companies, among
them Lockheed Martin, the world's largest military contractor and maker of
the F-16 fighter jet and Apache and Trident missiles; Boeing, the
second-largest U.S. company (behind Lockheed Martin) in foreign military
sales; and Philip Morris, which has the largest average revenues from
tobacco, at $52.5 million.

Church entities such as the PC(USA) Foundation and the Board of Pensions do
not currently own Talisman stock. The Foundation is a former Talisman
shareholder; it sold its shares recently, for economic reasons. The
resolution approved by last year's GA asked church entities to maintain a
"minimal" ownership position to permit shareholder involvement.

Spokespersons for the MRTI committee said Sudan's Muslim government is a
genocidal regime that enslaves women and children, bombs hospitals, and has
been responsible for the starving deaths of more than a million people. The
committee said its action was meant to keep the PC(USA)'s name from being
associated with war and human-rights abuses.

Foes of the Sudanese regime contend that Americans who invest in Talisman
and other oil companies doing business in Sudan become supporters of
genocide, because the oil fields pump millions of dollars into the
government's war effort. The civil war, which has cost more than 1.5 million
lives since 1983, pits Khartoum's Islamic government against mainly
Christian and animist rebels in the south.

Chevron discovered oil in Sudan 20 years ago. Talisman Energy, which
recently took over the franchise, has helped the country develop a major oil
capacity. A 1,000-mile pipeline running from the interior to Port Sudan
pumps at least 100,000 barrels per day. The Sudanese government has targeted
villages and civilians to clear the area around the pipeline in southern
Sudan, according to MRTI's report, and reportedly has purchased billions of
dollars worth of arms from several countries, using future oil revenues as

"It is also clear from numerous independent and well-respected sources
(Amnesty International, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch) that the
Sudanese government targeted villages and civilians to clear the area around
the pipeline, and continues to do so to protect against rebel attacks," the
report said.

The recommendation also asks this summer's General Assembly to direct the
stated clerk, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, to inform Talisman Energy Inc.
management of the GAC's action; direct MRTI to continue monitoring the
situation in Sudan; call upon the church to pray for the people of Sudan and
support international peacemaking efforts.

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