Firsthand account of victory at Stanford from STAND membership

by Mari Tanabe, Stanford ’13

I am pleased to report a recent success concerning Stanford University’s responsible investment policies, thanks to an initiative led by student group Stanford STAND!

Over the last 5 months, Stanford STAND: A Student Coalition to End and Prevent Genocide and Mass Atrocities, has been working to bring a proxy voting guideline to the attention of the Stanford University Board of Trustees. The proxy voting guideline directs Stanford to vote in favor of shareholder resolutions advanced in companies in which the University invests that advocate for corporate policies conscious of conflict minerals in their supply chain. At their June meeting, the Board voted in favor of the adoption of this new investment policy regarding the “conflict minerals” – minerals like tantalum, tungsten, tin, and gold from the illegally controlled mines in the eastern part of the country -- that sustain armed groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It’s not divestment, but rather a way for Stanford to use its voice and influence within the companies in which the University invests. We’re particularly proud of the Trustees’ decision because it is the first of its kind to be taken by any major university and marks an important step in working towards responsible supply chain management that can help to curb the tragic violence in the DRC.

The conflict in the Congo has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the 21st century, with an estimated 5.4 million civilian casualties since 1998. Mineral resources (tin, tungsten, tantalum, and gold) play a large part in fueling this devastating conflict. We encourage everyone to try and find out more about this complicated but incredibly destructive situation that is rarely publicized (try our website at stand.stanford.edu ). Various militia groups in the eastern Congo are currently fighting for control of mines that produce the lucrative minerals used in our consumer electronics like laptops and cell phones. When the militias win control of the mines, they often use the profit from the minerals to further fund the violence. Meanwhile, civilians are the victims of the violent intimidation, rape, destruction, and forced labor that represent key strategies of the illegal militias as they attempt to gain control of the mines.

As an organization, STAND chose to address this conflict by working toward the creation of a responsible supply chain process. Currently, because of the complex nature of the supply chain, it is not possible to determine the mine of origin for the minerals in our laptops and cell phones. This means consumers and companies have no way of knowing whether their electronics are conflict-free or not. STAND worked to encourage Stanford University to use its voice as an investor to show that there is demand for a responsible supply chain so that consumers and companies can have the choice to buy conflict-free products. We worked within the institutional structure of Stanford to develop and push this investment policy, gaining broad student and faculty support along the way to help us through.

Acting this fast to address a grave humanitarian crisis is unprecedented in the University’s history, but in the course of the months leading up to the Board of Trustees’ decision, we found that the main obstacles were not ideological or political differences, but rather bureaucratic inertia and a lack of awareness. But ultimately, as announced last week , the Board approved the new guideline at its meeting in the beginning of June! The fact that so many people at Stanford supported our campaign and that the University passed the guideline shows both what a group of dedicated students can accomplish and also the depth of the current crisis in Congo.

Though our success at Stanford was independent of REC, we’re excited to work with REC to support more change and connect with other schools. We are hoping that other universities will follow Stanford’s lead by demonstrating demand for a responsible supply chain. In doing so, universities and institutions have the opportunity to join a national movement that is growing in strength. Currently, the Financial Reform Bill, contains an amendment that addresses conflict minerals. There is also more specific legislation that is pending in both the House and the Senate.

This movement is getting bigger – and fast! Please feel free to contact me if your student group is interested in what we’ve done and how we did it in more detail!

Mari Tanabe (Stanford ’13) is the incoming Advocacy Director of Stanford STAND.

Stanford STAND is a student organization that seeks to end and prevent genocides in the world around us. To that end, we have chosen to focus on the current genocide in Sudan as well as the mass atrocities currently occurring in The Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Burma. We also are working for the creation of a permanent anti-genocide constituency to ensure that genocide prevention becomes an institutionalized foreign policy issue. We work on the Stanford campus, in the local Bay Area, and in Washington D.C., using a three-pronged approach: advocacy, awareness, and fundraising.

STAND was founded in 2005 in order to address the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. It has since expanded its mission to include other conflicts, particularly those resulting in a large number of civilian casualties, namely the conflicts underway in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma. Stanford STAND is a leading chapter of the national STAND organization, which is the student division of Genocide Intervention Network.

Find out more at stand.stanford.edu .

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