Save Darfur Coalition ramps up its campaign

WASHINGTON: The Save Darfur Coalition is expanding its campaign to stop investment by Boston-based Fidelity Investments and Omaha, NE-based Berkshire Hathaway in PetroChina, which the group claims indirectly funds genocide in Darfur.

WASHINGTON: The Save Darfur Coalition is expanding its campaign to stop investment by Boston-based Fidelity Investments and Omaha, NE-based Berkshire Hathaway in PetroChina, which the group claims indirectly funds genocide in Darfur.

Both Berkshire and Fidelity, through its various investment funds, as of the end of 2006 held large stakes in PetroChina, whose parent company, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), has invested at least $5 billion in state-run Sudanese government in exchange for oil, according to the coalition.

The coalition said this money in turn helps fund Sudanese government militias, whose ongoing battles with rebel groups have led to some 400,000 deaths and millions of displaced people.

Last week, the coalition organized a series of rallies and protests called Global Days for Darfur, including a protest on Wall Street against Fidelity. In addition, the group this week launched a print and TV ad campaign intended to reach Fidelity and Berkshire investors around the country.

In Omaha, billboards and print ads will be target those attending Berkshire's annual shareholder meeting on May 5. The group is also working with actress Mia Farrow, who is speaking to reporters and writing Op-Eds on the cause.

"It's time for these companies not to be just market leaders, but moral leaders," said Save Darfur Coalition executive director David Rubenstein a May 1 media teleconference. "We're calling for them to stop hiding behind technicalities."

Grassroots efforts also include plans by NAACP chapters to lobby state-run pension programs to stop their association with Fidelity if the firm doesn't divest itself of PetroChina shares.

Fidelity SVP of media relations and public affairs Anne Crowley told PRWeek that while the firm can't comment on its current holdings for fear of adversely affecting their value, Fidelity holdings may well be different than those on which the coalition bases it claims. She said the firm does not support or fund the "tragedy in Sudan" and fully complies with US laws that effectively block investment in companies owned or controlled by the Sudan government, or used as an instrument to invest in the government.

"If the government were to decide to broaden those laws, we would, of course, comply with those," Crowley said.

Berkshire Hathaway, meanwhile, released a statement in March saying it does not believe divestment in PetroChina would in any way stop or lessen the "atrocities that are occurring in Sudan." It added that PetroChina cannot be held accountable for the actions of its parent company, though CEO Warren Buffett did later agree to consider the matter at the shareholder meeting.

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