Chants of “Sin justicia, no hay paz,” Spanish for “without justice, there is no peace,” filled Harvard Yard Friday as about 30 students gathered outside Massachusetts Hall to protest the findings in a report alleging environmental damage by two Harvard-owned timber companies in Argentina.
The report, released Tuesday and published by the California think tank Oakland Institute and the student group Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, alleged that the timber companies are responsible for lower water levels, high levels of dust, and non-compliance to fire codes endangering the homes of those who live near the plantations.
Organized by Responsible Investment, the protest started on the steps of Widener Library, before marching to Mass. Hall, where four students left a copy of the report as well as a letter to University President Drew G. Faust signed by Argentine environmental groups, agricultural worker associations, and the area’s local Catholic Church.
The letter, about half a page long, outlined the grievances of those living around the Ibera Wetlands, where the timber plantations are located.
“Your university’s lands are dedicated to an exploitive and extractive activity that is the worst enemy of our communities and our ecosystems,” the letter states, referring to the alleged deleterious practices of the timber companies on the plantations.
The letter also asks that President Faust advocate for the removal of plantations within two kilometers of habitation and for a ban on the expansion of plantations until the completion of a study on their impact. It asks that the University honor those requests within 15 days of receiving the letter.
“I hope that Drew Faust will give the communities what they are asking for, but I expect that she will not,” said Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, a member of Responsible Investment who helped organize the rally.
“More work will be needed to convince the University administration that the use of Harvard’s investment is important to students,” Bayard added.
In a statement emailed Tuesday, University spokesperson Kevin Galvin wrote that the Harvard-owned timber companies are “in compliance with, or exceeding, all applicable rules and regulations in order to minimize impact to the wetland.”
“Both sites are operating with the full support of the local authorities and neither has been subject to an environmental or labor claim by the Argentine authorities,” Galvin wrote.
According to Michael E. Danto ’13-’14, those living around the Ibera Wetlands are considering pursuing legal action against the timber companies, but are waiting on Faust’s response before doing so.
“If Harvard decides to reform, then it might not prove necessary for the groups in Argentina to file formal legal complaints,” Danto said, adding that the groups might face difficulties filing a lawsuit in the area and troubles negotiating with the local government.
After one last march around Mass. Hall, the protesters vowed to return in 15 days if they have not received a response from the University.
“The whole Harvard community is impacted by Harvard’s investments, so we all have a responsibility to see that those investments are responsible,” Bayard said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Oct. 26, 2013
An earlier version of the caption of the photo accompanying this article misstated the name of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.
Study Says Harvard-Owned Plantations Have Damaged Argentina WetlandsA study released Tuesday alleges that the management of two Harvard-owned timber plantations in Argentina has led to the deterioration of the Ibera Wetlands, the world’s second largest wetlands, and a decline in the quality of life in surrounding communities.
Unethical EndowmentHarvard needs to seriously investigate and address the allegations raised in Responsible Investment’s report, and needs to do so in a transparent and public way.
Former Harvard Timber Contractor Accused of Bribery, Money LaunderingWhile a contractor for Scolopax, a Harvard-owned timber company in Romania, Dragos Lipan Secu allegedly conspired with timber sellers to purchase timberland at artificially high prices.
Harvard’s Timber EmpireHarvard could continue to cut corners, sacrificing native forests, subsistence farmers’ land, and ecological well-being in its efforts to turn a profit. Or, it could use its timberland assets to push forward a sustainable model for global forestry. I hope Harvard takes seriously its “commitment to sustainable investment” and that its “distinctive responsibilities to society” lead it to responsible ownership.
A Steep Price for Harvard's InvestmentBeing a student at Harvard is an incredible privilege. The least we can do is listen to those who are harmed in Harvard’s name, and work to make Harvard a positive force in communities from Cambridge to Corrientes.
Students Rally Against Harvard's Management of Timber Plantations in Argentina