With just a few weeks remaining until BP Amoco’s April 19 Annual General Meeting, many University of California students will take to their respective campuses to petition the UC Regents to vote yes on a shareholder resolution that would help protect Tibet from environmental and human rights abuses. The petitioners, many of whom are members of the international organization Students for a Free Tibet, will ask the Regents to demonstrate support for an oppressed people over short-term financial gain. The UC’s decision, as a major shareholder and a respected public institution, could have a significant effect on the outcome of the vote. UC owns close to six million shares of BP stock worth approximately $300 million. BP Amoco is the world’s third-largest oil company after Exxon Mobil and the Royal Dutch/Shell Group.

The initiative, labeled Resolution 17, would require BP to divest itself from PetroChina – a Chinese state-owned oil company – because of serious concerns over the firm’s environmental and human rights record. Major investors in the West, including TIAA-CREF and CalPERS, shunned PetroChina’s recent initial public offering because of questionable conduct in Tibet, China and indirectly in Sudan. BP Amoco was the exception, purchasing a $578 million stake, making it PetroChina’s largest foreign shareholder.

At the center of the controversy is a gas and oil project, dubbed the Sebei-Lanhou pipeline, which would run through the Amdo region of Tibet. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile has publicly stated its opposition to this development; it cites the negative impact on Tibet’s ecosystem, the depletion of natural resources with no benefits to the Tibetan people and the erosion of Tibet’s unique culture, amongst several other concerns. The pipeline is seen as an effort by the Chinese to strengthen their hold on Tibet. The Tibetans summarized their policy as such, “The Tibetan Government-in-Exile position with respect to development and investment in Tibet is clear: it supports projects which benefit the Tibetan people and opposes those which cause harm to them.”

Tibetan-rights groups are not the only ones campaigning in favor of Resolution 17. Environmental, labor and fair-practice business coalitions, including Friends of the Earth, Trillium Asset Management, the AFL-CIO, the American Anti-Slavery Group and the United States Business and Industry Council, have also endorsed the measure. “The directors of BP cannot pretend to be ignorant of the genocide … that their Chinese business partners and the Chinese government are engaged in both in Tibet and the Sudan,” said Kevin Kearns, president of the U.S. Business and Industry Council. This scathing description is in sharp contrast to the squeaky-clean image BP has tried to attain through a multi-million dollar public relations effort. The BP Amoco Board of Directors is opposed to the resolution, as it anticipates their operations in China will be very profitable.

The position of the regents on this matter is not clear, but shareholders generally do vote in accordance with the board of directors. Regent Davies stated that as fiduciaries of a public trust, the regents are very conscious of the interests of their constituents. Thus, a concerted effort expressing concern in this matter is immensely important, as it seems the regents are respectful of their charge to best represent the students, faculty and staff of the University as well as California taxpayers in general.

In accordance with their commitment to equality and the environment, the UC must vote in favor of protecting Tibet. To do otherwise would be a tragic disservice to the Tibetan people and will be seen as highly hypocritical by UC students, California residents and the educational community. This is a historic opportunity for UC students to benefit the Tibetans in their struggle for freedom.

The newly founded UCSB Students for a Free Tibet is coordinating the petition campaign in Santa Barbara. Please voice your belief that Tibet should not be exploited in our name before it is too late. Hopefully, Treasurer of the Regents DeWitt Bowman will exercise diligence and wait until the voice of the people is heard before making a decision, but legally he can cast the vote anytime between now and April 19. Everyone is welcomed and encouraged to join in petitioning the regents to support this just cause. To participate, access the UCSB Students for a Free Tibet website at www.geocities.com/ucsb_sft or e-mail ucsb_sft@yahoo.com. Also, please express your support for human rights and the environment in Tibet by contacting the Treasurer of the Regents at:

DeWitt Bowman
Treasurer of the Regents
P.O. Box 24000
Oakland, CA 94623-1000
(510) 987-9600

Daniel Gross is president of UCSB Students for a Free Tibet.