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Croatan Institute signs letter criticizing Harvard University land investments


In a letter addressed to Harvard University President Drew Faust, Josh Humphreys, President and Senior Fellow at Croatan Institute, joins 38 civil society organization leaders in expressing concern about Harvard's large-scale investments in farmland, plantation forests, and other natural resources across the developing world.

Harvard University’s $32 billion endowment is managed by Harvard Management Company, which has come under criticism for unsustainable management of investments made through wholly-owned, opaque shell companies. Earlier this year, a manager at a Harvard-owned Romanian timber company was arrested for accepting over $1 million in bribes to acquire timberland. Harvard-owned companies have been accused of unsustainable plantation forestry in Brazil, Chile, and Argentina, and are now facing lawsuits for destroying native forest and community protests from local farmers’ associations.

"The impact of Harvard's endowment extends far beyond the gates of Harvard Yard, into communities and ecosystems around the world where the university has secretively acquired hundreds of thousands of acres of land," noted Joshua Humphreys, president and senior fellow at Croatan Institute.  "With this letter," he continued, "civil society leaders from across five continents are demanding much greater transparency and accountability for Harvard's aggressive investments in farmland, forests and natural resources."

“As leaders of civil society organizations,” said Dan Apfel, Executive Director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition and member of Croatan Institute's Board of Advisers, “we are calling upon Harvard, the largest educational endowment in the world, to be a leader in providing a positive model for sustainable and responsible investing in land and across all of their assets.”

The letter states, “Given the lack of transparency of Harvard’s endowment and Harvard Management Company’s deliberate strategy of investing directly in emerging markets using these kinds of surreptitious tactics, we are concerned that these incidents constitute merely the tip of the iceberg.”

Blake McGhghy, a first-year Harvard student in the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, commented on the letter: "As students who benefit directly from Harvard's endowment, we demand that our education not be funded by exploitation or environmental degradation. This show of solidarity from civil society groups legitimizes our concerns. It is time that Harvard respond with transparency, accountability, and responsible investment."

Harvard University has invested over $3 billion of its endowment in natural resource holdings, including dairies in New Zealand, timber plantations in Argentina, farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, industrial agriculture in the Brazilian cerrado, and vineyards in California.

Two weeks ago, Harvard became the first university endowment in the United States to sign the United Nations-backed Principles for Responsible Investment. According to these leaders it is essential that these recent developments are translated into more sustainable and responsible practices in the communities and ecosystems directly impacted by the university's land investments.

The full text of the letter can be seen here or downloaded as a PDF here.

The official press release can be found here.


For more information, contact Josh Humphreys at josh@croataninstitute.org.

To learn more about Croatan Institute's research, visit "A New Social Contract for Higher Education."