Darfur and Some Personal Conflict

We’ve been hearing about genocide in Darfur for a long time. Recently I even tried to understand what was happening over there. I tried the Wikipedia entry, but had a hard time figuring out who was fighting and more importantly why they were fighting. It seemed so pointless.

Today I watched a movie from Netflix (Yay for the “Watch Instantly” feature, which lets you stream DVD quality movies) called The Devil Came on Horseback. It’s about a guy named Brian Steidle who was in Darfur for 6 months and photographed the conflict and talked to people over there. It’s a very touching movie and very enlightening, so if you don’t know what’s happening over there, it’ll definitely help you figure it out.

After the movie, there were a few screens where it said some things the people can do. One of them was a website called savedarfur.org. Curious, I went to the site and there was a blurb on petitioning investment firms to divest from companies that contribute to the Sudanese government and essentially fund the war. One of the firms listed was one through whom I do business, so I looked at the holdings of one of the funds I own through them. Sure enough, PetroChina was on the list, and PetroChina was specifically mentioned as a company that does business with the Sudanese government. So in this increasingly small world, I am indirectly funding the wrong side in the Darfur conflict.

Yes, it’s a few levels away. A fund in which I invest has shares of a Chinese petroleum company that gets its oil from the Sudan government that has been accused of causing the genocide. I could try to justify it by saying that my link is so far removed that I am not responsible. Or that my investment is so small that it wouldn’t make a difference. Or that since it is an index fund I and even the fund managers didn’t choose to have any stake in that company. Or that this kind of thing happens all the time when money changes into seedier and seedier hands. Or even that since I’m invested in an emerging markets fund it’s inevitable that this kind of stuff happens, and most of the other stocks probably have some tie or other to a bad person or government. But if I, no matter how indirectly, paid for even a single bullet that was used over there, and one of the pictures from the movie was the result of my bullet, well, I could become a very unhappy and unhealthy person very quickly thinking about that.

So what am I to do now? The holding is less than 1 percent of the fund’s assets, but I can’t shake the idea that some of the other assets are tainted the same way. I’ve deliberately not invested in petroleum companies except when they were part of an index fund, even though I could have made a lot of money, because I don’t support the way many of the petroleum companies raise prices to maintain insane profits. So rationally, since I don’t agree with the policies of companies in the fund’s assets, I should probably take my money out of this index fund and/or do what I can to get PetroChina out of the fund’s assets. And is the money I’ve made in this fund dirty? It certainly doesn’t feel clean at the moment.

I think I’ll take some of it out. I can’t move it all immediately, and I don’t want to move it into another fund before I’ve looked at it thoroughly. I’ll also write a letter to the investment firm asking them to divest PetroChina, but I don’t see how I can do that without knowing the details about all the other assets and where their money goes.

I suspect that as I continue to invest throughout my life this kind of conflict will happen again and again, but this is the first time I’ve seen a connection between an investment and people getting hurt, and I don’t like it.

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