U looks at ethics of Burmese divestment

by Jennifer Niemela

University officials supported a resolution Thursday ensuring the University won’t reinvest in Total Oil Company until a democratic government is reestablished in Burma or until the company suspends operations in the country.
The resolution, similar to one passed by the Minnesota Student Association earlier this quarter, now goes to the Board of Regents for approval.
Eric Bauer, chairman of the Senate Social Concerns Committee, hailed the decision as the correct moral choice.
Since 1988, Burma has been under the control of a military dictatorship that, many western countries allege, engages in systematic abuse of human rights. Total Oil investments represent one-third of the current foreign investments in Burma, a country the size of Texas in Southeast Asia.
The University sold off the last of its $1.5 million stock in the company in March. But officials said Thursday’s resolution would ensure that, if in the future the board wants to invest in Total Oil, the moral implications will be taken into account.
“Earlier this year, the University divested for financial reasons,” Bauer said. “We’re asking the University to avoid reinvesting again for social reasons.”
Stocks in the company, which is building a pipeline in Burma, were sold off in three parts: one-third at the end of 1997, one-third in January 1998 and one-third sometime after Jan 31, 1998. At the time, officials said the stock was sold for economic, not social reasons. However, the Minnesota Free Burma Coalition had actively lobbied University administrators to divest in Total Oil because of the political climate in Burma since December.
Despite saying the divestment was driven by economics, officials lauded the senate’s actions.
“I’m satisfied with the resolution,” said University President Mark Yudof, who added he thinks it’s appropriate for the University to take a moral stance on the issue of Burmese divestment.