Divest groups submit first draft of charter for socially responsible investment committee

Fathma Rahman, Assistant Campus Editor

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Northwestern Divest, Fossil Free Northwestern and Unshackle NU submitted to administration their first draft of the charter for the social responsible investment committee.

The draft, sent Monday night, mandates that the committee meetings are held open to the public and if the Board rejects a committee proposal it would have to issue a public comment explaining why, according to a copy of the charter obtained by The Daily. The first draft of the charter, which structures the role of the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, comes two weeks after the three divestment groups met with University President Morton Schapiro and other administrators.

“Our proposal was pretty basic,” said Weinberg junior Ruba Assaf, a member of NU Divest. “We tried to focus on making sure that student voices were adequately represented and aimed for a structure that would allow the committee to function effectively without serving as an obstacle to student movements.”

The three divestment groups are working with administrators to create the committee in order to push the Board of Trustees to make more socially responsible investments. The charter calls for recommendations that are “well researched and in the interest of increasing investments” in line with the principles of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s “Protect, Respect, Remedy” principles and NU.

NUDivest wants the University to divest from corporations its members say violate Palestinian human rights, Fossil Free NU from fossil fuel-related companies and Unshackle NU from companies they say support the prison-industrial complex.

The charter’s drafted mission statement says the committee will oversee investments made by the Northwestern Investment Office and encourage increased transparency. The committee will also be responsible for “engaging with corporations and financial intermediaries,” the statement said.

“We think (the committee) is really important because it’s going to allow for a lot more transparency on these kinds of things than there has been in the past,” said Medill junior Scott Brown, a member of Fossil Free NU and a former Daily staffer.

The charter created a process to hold the investment committee accountable for its actions, Brown said. When the committee holds meetings, the drafted charter mandates that the meetings include time for public comment.

The students’ charter also set a timeline for the Board to review proposals made by the socially responsible investment committee. The Board would receive a proposal from the committee at least two weeks before its quarterly meeting and must review it, make a decision and vote to approve or reject the proposal at that meeting.

“We’ve made it so that the process can happen all within one quarter so that it’s not a long drawn-out process,” Brown said. “Some groups, like Fossil Free NU, had been trying to get the University to even vote on divestment for three years — and that shouldn’t be the case. It shouldn’t be that much of a burden on students to have to fight and fight and fight for this kind of thing.”

If the Board does decide to reject a proposal recommended by the socially responsible investment committee, the charter mandates them to issue a public comment explaining this decision. The charter also requires the Board allow representatives from the divestment groups to speak in meetings, granting the groups access student activists have never had before, Brown said.

Schapiro said in an interview with The Daily last week that although the Board has a responsibility to invest for financial return, they also adhere to the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment, which requires them to look at the corporate governance of a company, as well as the environmental and social concern from the production and use of its products.

Although Schapiro said he hopes the socially responsible investment committee can make compelling suggestions, the investment portfolio is ultimately decided by the Board.

“(The investment committee) has complete authority and that’s not going to change,” Schapiro said. “The only way to get them to allocate our portfolio in a way that some of us would like would be to convince them. It’s not the protesting, it’s not to try and embarrass them — it’s just to convince them.”

Brown said students involved in the divestment movements hope is the charter will be proposed and voted on at the next Board meeting in June.

Email: fathma@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @fathma_rahman

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