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[PCUSANEWS] PC(USA) investment monitors focus on Sudan

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Date Wed, 13 Sep 2006 15:40:05 -0400

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06466 September 13, 2006

PC(USA) investment monitors focus on Sudan

MRTI empowered to ask GAC to divest from war-profiteers

by Toya Richards Hill

CHICAGO * The crisis in Sudan and how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can impact it from an investment standpoint will be integral to work of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) for the rest of 2006 and in 2007.

The committee, which monitors the PC(USA)'s investments to make sure they are socially responsible and consistent with General Assembly policies, agreed on a initial plan of action for Sudan during its meeting here Sept. 6-8.

"Based on existing research already completed by other organizations, and in consultation with the Sudanese network of the PC(USA), and in cooperation with ecumenical partners, MRTI will explore alternatives for action involving normal MRTI processes," the committee stated.

The action was approved as part of MRTI's 2006-2007 Priority Issues Work Plan, which outlines nine key categories the committee will address: the environment, access to capital, global corporate accountability, employment practices, media standards and family issues, militarism, the rural farm crisis, access to health care, and corporate governance.

The charge for MRTI to address Sudan comes directly from two overtures * one from the presbyteries of Trinity and Shenango (Item 11-28) and one from the presbytery of Palisades (Item 11-37) * adopted by the 217th General Assembly during its June meeting in Birmingham, AL.

The armed conflict in the Darfur region of western Sudan has yielded massive numbers of deaths, and the United States government has described the atrocities there as genocide. Sudan's government and the pro-government Arab militias are accused of war crimes against the region's black African population, according to information from BBC News.

Among other things, MRTI has been directed by the GA to "explore the appropriateness of recommending to the General Assembly that it add to its divestment list those companies profiting from the sale of armaments, helicopters, tanks, and other war material to the government of Sudan until those companies either suspend their operations in Sudan or a just and lasting peace exists for all people of Sudan."

Furthermore, the assembly voted to allow the General Assembly Council "be authorized to act on behalf of the General Assembly on the MRTI's recommendations and to do so with all due speed."

The General Assembly won't meet again until summer 2008 in San Jose, CA. The Rev. Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, the PC(USA) staff person assigned to MRTI, said this is the first time to his knowledge that the GA has empowered the GAC to add a company to the GA's divestment list if deemed appropriate.

"Everybody is clear something has got to be done," Somplatsky-Jarman told the committee. But "we really need to think through where we want to target our efforts."

The PC(USA) is no stranger to the conflict in Sudan, and MRTI successfully worked to change the business practices of Talisman Energy there. The 2001 GA voted to place Talisman on its divestment list because of the company's involvement in an oil exploration and pipeline project in southern Sudan.

The Sudanese government was receiving revenues from the pipeline, which it used to repay loans it used to fund the civil war. Pressure on Talisman eventually led to it selling its interest in the project.

In addition, the PC(USA)'s Sudan Mission Network of individuals, churches and presbyteries interested in Sudan has been actively working to address needs there for many years, Somplatsky-Jarman said.

And other PC(USA) entities, including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, also have played a part in assisting with the Sudan crisis.

At the same time, Somplatsky-Jarman acknowledged difficulties MRTI might presently face as it tries to use its standard procedures, which include corporate engagement, shareholder resolutions, proxy voting and divestment as a last resort.

The U.S. government has imposed a trade embargo against Sudan, so "the companies that are involved are primarily European or Asian. They are not U.S. companies," he said.

The PC(USA), through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Foundation and the Board of Pensions, owns stock in German-based Siemens, France-based Alcatel, and PetroChina, all of which are among the companies often cited as being involved in Sudan.

"It's not like we don't have any relationship or position to approach them," Somplatsky-Jarman said of the foreign corporations. But who knows if you can file a shareholder resolution with a Chinese company, for example, he said.

Also making things difficult is the fact that there's no real consensus on who to focus on among the various people exploring ways to address the crisis, Somplatsky-Jarman said. For example, southern Sudan, where there is a peace accord, shares in oil revenues, so targeting oil companies might adversely affect Sudanese people in the south.

"Tactically, who do you focus on," he said. The issues "are strategic in nature."

Though some MRTI members expressed angst about the challenges in addressing the situation, the committee agrees it could piggyback on research that has already done about corporate involvement in Sudan, and more closely collaborate with the Sudan network as a starting point.

"It's not like we're completely without ability to affect this," said Bernice McIntyre, an at-large representative on MRTI. "There's something that we could do."

A Yale University research report on investing in the Sudan * Yale report - was specifically cited as research MRTI will be reviewing.

Yale announced in February that it would "bar investments of its endowment assets in obligations of the Sudanese government as well as in seven oil companies currently operating in Sudan as a response to the genocide being committed with support from the government of Sudan in the Darfur region."

The seven companies are Bentini, Higleig, Hi-Tech Petroleum, Nam Fatt, Oil & Natural Gas Corporation, PetroChina and Sinopec.

"There is a lot of energy behind wanting to do something," Somplatsky-Jarman said.

MRTI is tentatively scheduled to meet again in February in New York City.


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