Lawmakers Want the State To Divest From Darfur

By: Zac Schultz Email
By: Zac Schultz Email

Madison: A new proposal at the Capitol would ask the State of Wisconsin Investment Board to stop investing in companies that are funding genocide in Darfur.

"We are invested in companies contributing to mass atrocities, but we can ensure that our state will not invest in genocide any longer," says Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls).

The State of Wisconsin Investment Board is in charge of $90 billion in investments. That money pays the pensions of former state employees, police officers, firefighters and teachers.

The bill would require the Investment Board to divest from a handful of foreign companies that do business in the African nation of Sudan. The Sudanese government has been accused of supporting the militias committing genocide in the Darfur region. "We're talking about companies that have significant profits going to the Sudanese government and that money being turned around to be used to fund genocide," says Sachin Chheda, Coordinator of the Darfur Action Coalition of Wisconsin.

David Mills is the Executive Director of the Investment Board. "It's a bill that while well-intentioned really has the wrong solution. It would require members of the Wisconsin retirement system to bear the cost associated with sending a political message to Sudan."

The bill would target $110 million in investments in about 25 foreign companies. "This bill is very targeted. It would affect about .12% of the total investment portfolio," says Harsdorf.

But Mills says it's not that easy. Most of their investments are done through other investment companies. They would have to pull out completely. "We would have to move billions and billions of dollars into Sudan-free funds."

And moving that money around would come at a price. "We estimate it could be as much as $175 million a year in costs associated with implementing the bill," says Mills.

That loss would be felt by retirees who depend on the Investment Board. "There are 10's of thousands of participants in the Wisconsin retirement system, they want to know that their money is secure. We're saying it's not that your money shouldn't be secure, it's that it shouldn't fund genocide," says Chheda.

"Ultimately it could be a significant price tag for the state of Wisconsin," says Mills.

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