In the UC Regents’ Treasurer’s Office newsletter of June 2000, the Regents’ Dept. of Financial Control writes, “The overall investment objective of all funds is to maximize real, long-term returns … along with the overall goal of beating the median return of our peers and exceeding inflation.” The Treasurer’s Office reiterates repeatedly that profits are the sole objective, with concern for the behavior of the companies in its investment portfolio being of little or no concern at all. On April 19, at BP Amoco’s Annual General Meeting, the Regents proved exactly that by electing not to support Shareholder Special Resolution 17, casting their 6-million share vote against a referendum that would have instructed BP Amoco, the world’s third-largest petroleum company, to divest its $578 million share of PetroChina, a Chinese state-owned oil company, whose interests in Tibet are furthered with little regard for international environmental and human rights standards.
In essence, the Regents agreed with BP’s Board of Directors in saying, “The resolution and supporting statement ask BP to walk away from a commercially attractive venture that forms one of the main building blocks of our China strategy and to diminish or destroy our ability to influence the way in which one of the world’s most important markets will develop. That is not in the best interests of shareholders.” In their recommendation for a vote against Resolution 17, the Board of Directors does not once condemn PetroChina’s despicable behavior. The Board of Directors repeats again and again that, regardless of China’s political policy and practices, it does present a growing market which BP is interested in profiting from at any human cost. PetroChina’s activity in Tibet is frightening, to say the least. The company is currently constructing a gas pipeline in the Amdo region of Tibet that will ravage the environment and harm the local population. In an effort to protect the people it represents, the Tibetan government-in-exile is actively opposing the development. In the supporting statement for Resolution 17, the resolution’s proponents, including the International Campaign for Tibet, Friends of the Earth and the AFL-CIO write, “Since China occupied Tibet in 1949, the Tibetan people, their culture and religion have been brutally oppressed. According to the exiled Tibetan government, 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct or indirect result of China’s occupation and 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed … These projects are part of China’s strategy to consolidate political control of [Tibet].” The pipeline will exploit the region’s resources and will be of no benefit to Tibetans. In addition, the project will facilitate population transfer, as low-income Chinese workers will be coerced into settling in Tibet to work on the pipeline. Furthermore, PetroChina’s parent company, CNPC, has been accused of grave human rights abuses in Sudan, including beatings and murder. A portion of the profits from PetroChina’s operations in Tibet will inevitably flow to Sudan, potentially worsening the situation there considerably. By choosing not to divest from PetroChina, BP’s shareholders, including the UC Regents, have ignored the cries of a people in dire need of support from the international community, thus furthering the erosion of one of the world’s most precious cultural treasures.
This issue is not only about Tibet. The Regent’s failure to vote in favor of human rights and the environment is an insult to humanity that crosses all lines of identity, be they racial, ethnic, national, religious, philosophical or political. The administration’s disregard for humanity in the interest of profits is utterly unacceptable to a significant majority of students, faculty and staff. Equally disturbing is the fact that the Regents, the governing board of the University we attend, and therefore our representatives, have chosen to ignore the collective voice of the students. A University-wide campaign that garnered large student support and collected thousands of petition signatures, including 2,000 signatures collected at the University’s Santa Barbara campus, failed to convince the Regents to vote affirmatively on Resolution 17. The Regents have therefore taught the University community and the public an important lesson in policy making: The will of the UC community is of little importance to the administration. Is this the message we as a community want to convey? Is this what we want to tell the world? A public institution of “learning” that prides itself on its historic involvement in the free speech movement and other student and civil rights movements is tacitly supporting actions tantamount to genocide, a concerted effort to destroy an ethnic identity. We cannot in good conscience allow this to continue. To that end, we announce this three-point proposal:
1.The UC Regents must publicly demand that BP divest from PetroChina because of the company’s human rights and environmental abuses in Tibet.
2.The Regents must adopt a financial policy that calls for a socially responsible investment portfolio.
3.The Regents must declare their support for the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination and freedom from oppression.
We submit this to the Regents, mindful of the immortal words, “No one is free when others are oppressed!”
UCSB Students for a Free Tibet is coordinating the UC-BP campaign in Santa Barbara. For more information, log on to www.sa.ucsb.edu/orgs/sft or call 971-5575.
There will be a demonstration at Cheadle Hall on Tuesday, May 22, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Shlomy Kattan is a senior at UC Berkeley and president of Citizens in Action.