Skip to main content

Duke Adopts Investment Guidelines on Conflict Minerals

Student-led effort receives the backing of the university's Board of Trustees

A student-led effort to tie Duke University's investment guidelines to the issue of conflict minerals has received the backing of the university's Board of Trustees.Conflict minerals are minerals mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On Friday, the board's Executive Committee approved a resolution that authorizes DUMAC, Duke's investment arm, to adopt a proxy voting guideline for investments in which the university has direct ownership. The guideline stipulates that Duke vote in favor of "well-written and reasonable shareholder resolutions that ask companies for reports on their policies and efforts regarding their avoidance of conflict minerals and conflict mineral derivatives."In approving the resolution, the board expressed its appreciation to Duke students Stefani Jones and Sanjay Kishore and to the student-led Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke "for bringing the issue of conflict minerals to the attention of the university.""It is rewarding to see our students take such an active role on issues of socially responsible investment," Duke President Richard H. Brodhead said. "I'm grateful for the excellent work that members of the Duke community did in addressing a difficult topic in such a thoughtful way."Jones, the coalition's president, said she first learned about the relationship between minerals and the conflict in the Congo last year while interning at the Enough Project, which is dedicated to ending genocide and crimes against humanity."I immediately felt a sense of responsibility -- both as a consumer and as someone who cares about human rights -- to speak up and use what influence I have to affect change," Jones said."With an issue as large and complex as this, it's easy to assume that student actions can't really have an impact. But when we as individuals gain the backing of our institutions and surrounding community, our collective voices have the power to affect real change," she added.Over the past year, the Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke worked to mobilize the Duke community around this cause. Its members educated student groups, met with members of the Duke administration and carefully researched a proposal that eventually made its way to the president's Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility (ACIR). ACIR, composed of faculty, students and administrators, recommended to Brodhead that the university adopt the investment guidelines."ACIR sought to engage both the broad views of the Duke community and the advice of experts," said Jonathan B. Wiener, the committee chair and a professor in the schools of law, public policy and environment. "Conflict minerals present a difficult question because the social harm of the conflict is clearly severe, but the likely effects of different measures Duke could adopt are complex. We tried to give advice that explained this complexity, charted a considered course of action, and also created a process for continuing learning and evaluation."After reviewing ACIR's report, Brodhead recommended that the board approve the conflict mineral guideline.In 2004, Duke's Board of Trustees adopted a Guideline on Socially Responsible Investing, and created a process for deliberation on requests "to take ethical factors into account when setting investment policies." In 2007, Duke students submitted the first such request, asking the university to refrain from investing in companies doing significant business in Sudan/Darfur. The trustees, based on ACIR's and the president's recommendation, adopted that request in January 2008.Kishore, a member of the coalition board, said students involved in the conflict mineral issue "were inspired by Duke's storied tradition of leadership in movements for corporate social responsibility and human rights, dating back to the Students Against Sweatshops campaign in the late '90s.""We wanted to further this legacy of student activism," Kishore added.The resolution approved Friday also calls for a separate committee -- the President's Special Committee -- to review the policy after five years "as its full consequences and evolving circumstances are better understood."