A coalition plans to launch an ad campaign [on] Tuesday meant to pressure Fidelity Investments and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB) to divest from corporations [that] the coalition says are doing business with the government in Darfur, where a bloody conflict is raging.
The Washington-based Save Darfur Coalition, along with various divestment advocates, actress Mia Farrow - a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund - and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will launch the campaign Divest for Darfur, which will include print and television advertisements that will run nationally. The coalition ultimately seeks to influence the Sudanese government.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been chased from their homes in the remote western region of Sudan since 2003. The brutal attacks on non-Muslim villagers, by militias reportedly armed by the nation's Arab-led regime, have been labeled genocide by the Bush administration.
One ad to be run by the coalition includes a video shot a week ago in refugee camps in Sudan, according to the coalition.
The group said [that] it also plans to announce the results of "a national poll gauging public opinion on divestment as it relates to genocide."
The campaign will urge Fidelity and Berkshire Hathaway to divest their holdings in PetroChina Co. (PTR), the listed arm of state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. PetroChina, which is listed in Hong Kong and has American depositary shares traded in New York, doesn't own any assets in Sudan, but its parent has fields producing several hundred thousand barrels a day in Sudan with partners.
"About 70% of oil revenue in Sudan goes to its military, which is responsible for the genocide in Darfur," the Save Darfur Coalition said on its Web site.
Fidelity is the largest holder of PetroChina shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, based on Dec. 31 reporting by PetroChina, according to the Sudan Divestment Task Force. Berkshire Hathaway is the largest holder of publicly traded stock in PetroChina, based on the same Dec. 31 reports and on reports on Class H share holdings, which are Hong Kong-listed mainland companies, according to the task force.
Anne Crowley, a spokeswoman for Fidelity, said [that] it is not possible for anyone to know what Fidelity holds, and notes that the latest data available is four months old. It would not be in the interest of shareholders to comment on the firm's current holdings, she said.
Fidelity complies fully with all applicable laws regarding the buying and selling of investments on behalf of its funds, including those that the government has put in place that effectively prohibit U.S. investors from investing in companies that are owned or controlled by the government of Sudan, Crowley said.
"This is not Fidelity's own money," she added. "This is the money of many investors, and those investors who choose Fidelity funds expect that these funds will be managed in such a way that meets the funds' investment objectives and is applicable with all government laws."
Crowley also noted that for those who wish to invest based on their personal ethical or social values, Fidelity offers funds managed by other fund companies that provide that opportunity through its funds' network.
Debra Ray, a spokeswoman for Berkshire Hathaway, had no comment on the matter except to say that the issue "will be discussed at the annual meeting."
Berkshire Hathaway says on its Web site that it "agrees that conditions in that country (Sudan) are deplorable and sympathizes with people who want to remedy them. We believe, however that they are wrong in both their analysis of PetroChina's connection to these conditions, and their belief that divesting our PetroChina holdings would in any way have a beneficial effect on Sudanese behavior."
The company also says on its Web site that it has seen no records to indicate that PetroChina has operations in Sudan, though its controlling shareholder, CNPC, does do business in Sudan. CNPC is owned by the Chinese government and that government's activities cannot be attributed to PetroChina, Berkshire says. In addition, the firm says, "We do not believe that Berkshire should automatically divest shares of an investee because it disagrees with a specific activity of that investee."
M. Allyn Brooks-LaSure, a spokesman for Save Darfur Coalition, said that protests targeting Fidelity Investments were held Sunday in Boston by divestment advocates affiliated with the coalition as well as last week at Fidelity's offices in New York and Washington, D.C.
Further action is planned at Berkshire's annual meeting [on] May 5 in Omaha [...], he said. "Divestment advocates will respectfully engage shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway in our efforts to initialize a dialogue and share with them how their investments may be, in fact, funding the genocide in Darfur," Brooks-LaSure said.
U.S. law prohibits most American companies from operating directly in Sudan, but U.S. firms may legally invest in foreign companies that operate in Sudan.
The coalition is made up of 180 organizations, including [...] American Jewish World Service, the NAACP, student coalition STAND, and the Jewish Council [for] Public Affairs. Its ultimate goal is to pressure the Sudanese government into seeking a peaceful resolution to the ongoing crisis in Darfur.