Regents ban any future investment in Total Oil

by Robin Huiras

Ending 10 months of public controversy, the Board of Regents unanimously passed a resolution Thursday to prohibit any future University investments in Total Oil Co., the French-based company with operations in Burma.
The resolution is the last phase in ending University relations with a company whose investments support a totalitarian military regime in Burma.
“The passing of the resolution is the final leg in a long road,” said Mick Schommer, co-director of the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition.
Burma, a small country in southeast Asia, has been the subject of international debate since a military takeover in 1988. The decision by the board is in accordance with a federal ban on future investments in Burma.
“The resolution is closing the loop with what the Senate Social Concerns Committee has done,” said board coordinator Katie De Boer.
Robert Brown, chairman of the University’s Senate Social Concerns Committee, said their initial resolution early last spring called for complete divestment in Total Oil until it ceased its activity in Burma. Including language relating to the ongoing human rights violations in Burma, the resolution was not approved.
The final resolution, passed by the committee last May, commits the University to social responsibility in its investments without including the initial human rights violation language, Brown said.
“The board’s motivation is the final resolution passed by the Social Concerns Committee,” De Boer said.
The resolution prohibits relations with Total while it remains in Burma. However, if the company were to move out of the country, the resolution would be obsolete, De Boer said.
Total Oil’s presence in Burma financially supports a military regime — a situation many feel translates into the University supporting an oppressive government.
It is not debated, said Schommer, that people are killed by the thousands in Burma. Although the process is complete, he said, the University should not have hesitated to take action.
Since the creation of the original document, the University has sold its holdings in Total. The reasons for selling the $1.5 million in shares varied, said De Boer. However, a major contributor was the unprofitable holdings, she said.
University awareness of the issue began with a protest by members of the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition last January. The Minnesota Student Association passed a vote following the protest before the issue went before the Social Concerns Committee.
“MSA wanted the University to take responsibility for recognizing and not supporting human rights violations in Burma supported by Total Oil,” said Brandon Lacy, executive liaison to MSA.
This resolution sets a very important precedent. It relates to the fact that no other university has publicly divested in a company whose investments support a regime violating human rights.
“The University will be known as on the forefront of the movement,” Schommer said. “No other universities have divested in this way. It is a groundbreaking initiative in the nation; it is unique and will lead the way.”