Following the announcement of Bill and Melinda Gates as Commencement speakers for the upcoming Class of 2014 graduation this year, students began forming a movement requesting the Gates Foundation to divest from company G4S. As of yesterday, 1100 people had signed a petition calling for divestment due to a “litany of human rights abuse and concerns” that the statement claimed G4S was complicit in.
On Wednesday, a stock exchange filing showed that Gates had sold down his stake in G4S to below three percent. It is unclear exactly how much stock Gates still holds because three percent is the lowest threshold at which investors must declare.
The student group organizing the protest released a statement applauding Gates’ decision to sell down his shares.
“We have been in direct communication with representatives of the Foundation and indirect contact with representatives of the Asset Trust that runs the foundation’s endowment since May 13 and as recently as May 28,” the press release stated. “We view Gates’ decision as a victory for our campaign and the many others around the globe that have been working tirelessly against G4S’ human rights abuses and the Gates Foundation’s investments in them.”
According to Clayton Evans ’15, another student organizer, there are about 40 active members in the coalition, which officially began its push for student mobilization of the campus about a month ago. The student coalition also includes representatives from a wide array of student groups including Fossil Free Stanford, the Student Labor Alliance, the Stanford Asian American Activism Committee, Stanford STAND and Students for Justice in Palestine.
“[G4S] is involved in a huge plethora and wide array of human rights abuses in almost every geopolitical and social context in Central America, the Middle East and South Africa,” said Joshua Schott ’14, student organizer. “In having the Gates Foundation invested in a corporation that does all these things that kills and marginalizes the communities that the Gates Foundation tries to help is somewhat hypocritical and contradictory to what they’re doing.”
“It’s not about being against the Gates, it’s about trying to make the Gates Foundation hold true to its principle because it does so much good and is an amazing entity,” Evans said.
In its press release following the divestment, the Stanford campaign said that it would continue to call for broader action than selling shares from G4S. The group said that it is still asking for the Gates Foundation and its Asset Trust to complete divest from G4S, reevaluate its investments in companies under investigation for human rights abuses and to publicize its policy of socially responsible investment.
“Having the Gates Foundation [completely] divest from [G4S] is the ultimate goal but we’re realistic and know that there’s a slim chance from doing that, but we want a public engagement around these issues,” Schott said. “And so this would be really crucial, and I think we’ve already succeeded a lot of ways in sparking discussion on campus.”
Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’ stanford.edu.