Divestment from Sudan

In the 2003 Resolution on the Need for Action in Sudan, the Union for Reform Judaism asserted its support for the people of Darfur and called upon the United States and Canadian governments and the United Nations to use diplomatic and political means to stop the genocide. Since the passage of that Resolution, the attacks on civilians and villages in the Darfur region continue to rage. In this extreme case of violence, we must assess all of the options available that may contribute to ending the atrocities.

Despite years of continuous pressure on the government of Sudan, including increased public awareness around the world, attacks on Darfurian civilians by the Janjaweed and backed by the Sudanese government are still occurring. The violence is now spreading across the border to Eastern Chad. Over 400,000 civilians have lost their lives and as many as 2.5 million have been displaced. The situation remains dangerous for humanitarian aid workers on the ground and many have been forced to abandon the region.

A movement calling for targeted divestment from Sudan has been growing in the United States, reaching states, cities, and universities. The main goal of the majority of these campaigns is to stop the violence in Darfur by withdrawing investments of private and government funds from companies that do business in or with the government of Sudan.

A moral approach to divestment in a situation like Darfur should seek to undermine the perpetrators of the violence while ensuring that humanitarian programs remain intact and civilians are not further made to suffer. Much of the divestment effort around the country has been quite narrowly focused, using the three criteria developed by the Sudan Divestment Task Force's Targeted Divestment Model. The criteria suggest divesting only from companies that "provide revenue (or arms) to the government, impart minimal benefit to the country's underprivileged, and have expressed no significant corporate governing policy regarding the current situation in Darfur." 1 To assist individuals and organizations, the Sudan Divestment Task Force provides a list of companies that warrant scrutiny according to these guidelines as well as companies that are appropriate for shareholder engagement towards changing policy (without divestment). As of February 2007 there were 29 companies on the list of those requiring scrutiny, including two Canadian companies, and 18 companies for shareholder engagement, including one U.S. company.

Any effective proposal needs to realize the complications and limitations that may arise in correctly identifying and divesting from companies that fit the above descriptions. In particular, investment in mutual funds composed of an amalgam of entities may make full divestment difficult. Nonetheless, a good faith effort is possible.

The crisis in Darfur marks the first time that violence has been labeled as genocide while still occurring, lending gravity to the situation as well as giving us a unique opportunity to put an end to such atrocities. The act of divestment is not to be taken lightly. We have supported such efforts where egregious crimes against humanity have taken place (e.g. opposing apartheid in South Africa) and have been critical of such campaigns in other circumstances, such as efforts that have unfairly targeted Israel. Yet the Jewish community, including the Reform Movement, knows well from previous divestment campaigns in which we have participated, such as that against apartheid-era South Africa, the power of divestment to bring about justice. Divestment is a tactic to use in specific and appropriate situations.

In Jewish tradition, the sanctity of life is at the very foundation of our beliefs. Leviticus demands that we do "not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor" (19:16). As today's society becomes increasingly globalized, this obligation extends to both our literal neighbors and those across the oceans. If we have a chance to prevent the loss of innocent lives and stop the genocide in Darfur, we must employ any practical means available to us. This obligation includes the use of conscientious monetary policies as a tool for positive social change, affirming the Union's position on socially responsible investment that"Jews should not participate in projects that violate Jewish values."2 Our investments and monetary transactions are not exempt from the just and moral ways we strive to conduct our lives. We must continue to be leaders in the fight against genocide and not turn away from the first example of genocide in the 21st Century, lest in the future, we look back and know we could have done more to stop it.

THEREFORE, the Union for Reform Judaism resolves to:

  1. Divest, to the extent feasible, investment funds from businesses currently supporting the Sudanese government, utilizing the criteria of the Sudan Divestment Task Force's Targeted Divestment plan;
  2. Call on Union congregations with investment funds to divest to the extent possible such funds from these same companies; and,
  3. Call on Union congregations and individuals at the grassroots level to support actively and work towards targeted divestment by states, municipalities and universities.

[1] "Sudan Divestment Task Force Proposal to the Save Darfur Coalition," Sudan Divestment Task Force.

[2] 1997 Union for Reform Judaism Resolution on Socially Responsible Investment.