Last week, the Western Washington University Foundation unanimously passed a resolution to relinquish funding to corporations that support the Sudanese government or show apathy and compliance to the genocide taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The process of withdrawing funds from the offending corporations is called divestment and can be attributed to the work of the AS club, A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition (STAND) working together with AS President, Ramiro Espinoza, brought the plan of divestment to the foundation's attention. This divestment campaign highlights the large student and citizen movement that has rallied in response to the genocide, a movement that has worked tirelessly despite the reluctance of world leaders to take decisive action.
STANDï‚¾last year's AS club of the yearï‚¾ is part of a larger student network working to end genocide in Darfur. The systematic killing of Darfurian civilians has been happening since 2003. STAND works closely with the Genocide Intervention Network which has developed a project called the Sudan Divestment Taskforce. This taskforce developed a list of companies that show blatant disregard for the lives of the people of Darfur and promote the divestment of universities, cities, states and countries, from these companies.
The Western Washington University Foundation's resolution specifically stated that it “will not directly invest in companies that are identified by the Sudan Divestment Taskforce to: have a business relationship with the government of Sudan or a government-created project, impart minimal benefit to disadvantaged citizens that are typically located in the geographic periphery of Sudan, and have demonstrated no substantial corporate governance policy regarding the situation in Darfur.” They will also encourage the other investment and money managing associations that Western employs to consider divesting as well.
Mackenzie Miller, Western senior and STAND's Washington state outreach coordinator, pointed out that the WWU Foundation is not the same as Western Washington University. The Foundation is a nonprofit that solicits and receives donations given to the Western and then invests those to generate money. Although this company is private it does work closely with Western and it holds more money than the university does, Miller said.
“Our next step will be to approach the University,” Miller said. STAND plans on approaching them about divestment soon, although they have no set date.
“We're basically trying to get the University on the bandwagon with the other progressive Universities,” said Andrew Holcom, Western graduate student and budget authority for STAND.
On the West Coast the University of Washington, Stanford, the University of California and the University of Southern California have all divested. The numbers are higher on the east coast where many of the private universities have divested on a partial to total level. Holcom also noted that the divestment plan was welcomed by the WWU Foundation and STAND has not yet received any resistance from the university in the area of divestment.
STAND said it does not know if the WWU Foundation is currently supporting any companies on the Sudan Divestment Taskforce's list, however this resolution does mean a commitment of the Foundation to drop any current investment on the list as well as an avoidance of any future investments in companies on the list. The taskforce's list is constantly being updated and changed due to companies changing policies and involvement with the Sudan. The taskforce is careful to note that they target only those companies who egregiously disregard the genocide and they aim to limit any further negative effects on the Darfurian people.
Although the Sudanese government sponsored genocide of the Darfurian people started five years ago in 2003, the United Nations. has been slow moving in its feet in response. The burnout rate of volunteers working with STAND and other similar groups is high, Miller said, and the process of divestment is slow. The hope is that eventually enough money will be diverted away from the Sudanese government that it will be forced to end the genocide.
“One university divesting won't have a major impact,” Miller said. However, she noted that each university that divests will be taking a stand against genocide and will also raise awareness for the cause