Students from across the UC system spoke at the UC Board of Regents meeting at UCLA on Friday, Feb. 23 to call for the UC to divest from 200 companies listed in the UC Fossil Free index — which includes Chevron and Exxon Mobil — and from $425 million worth of investments from Wells Fargo, which currently invests in private for-profit prison corporations, such as Geocorp and the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
Todd Lu and Minh Tran from Fossil Free UCLA spoke at the meeting’s public comment to highlight the environmental and financial risks that fossil fuels pose to the UC system. After their presentation, Jhene Williams, a UCLA undergraduate student and Camila Moore, a UCLA alumna from the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC), presented on Wells Fargo.
While the UC divested $200 million from coal and oil sands companies in June 2015, the system still currently invests in other energy companies such as oil and natural gas companies. According to Lu, these industries are not compliant with the UC’s sustainability goals which include becoming carbon-neutral by 2025.
“These industries should be burning under two degrees Celsius in emissions, yet the industry is planning on burning five times more,” Lu explained. “The fossil fuel industry … puts vulnerable communities at risk.”
Tran focused on how divesting from fossil fuels poses little financial risk to the UC. “One-third of the companies are at risk of going bankrupt,” Tran explained. “We urge this committee to freeze investment in the top 200 fossil fuels bonds, for its own financial benefit and the benefit of the environment.”
Williams and Moore followed after, discussing the prison industry and how it disproportionately affects communities of color. Williams cited that African-Americans — despite making up only 12 percent of the population in the U.S. — account for more than 43 percent of the incarcerated populace.
Wells Fargo currently invests in the CCA and Geocorp to build prison facilities, which make a majority of their profit from the amount of incarcerated prisoners they hold, according to Williams. The ABC members explained that many private prisons lack adequate health facilities despite Geocorp and the CCA making a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue.
In addition, Williams cited a 2012 court settlement for $1.2 billion, which showed that the bank had used predatory lending practices against Latinos and African-Americans during 2004-2009. Due to this history and the aforementioned support of for-profit private prisons the ABC members urged complete divestment until the bank ends its investments with private prisons, in addition to a committee which would review whether investments are socially responsible.
ABC members speaking via video call from Oakland also urged the UC to divest from Wells Fargo. “We’re here because we care, this isn’t about an organizational victory,” Wesley, a UC alumnus, stated. “It’s not just to reinvest in the slavery of my people.”
“I think that we as this committee … have tried to encourage student involvement in this and we really have and we’ve had much more student engagement discussion … divestment is always extremely difficult … it’s a hard conversation, but it doesn’t mean it should be one we shouldn’t have,” UC Regent Paul Wachter stated, in regards to the finance committee.
In addition, Wachter added that the ABC protesters should approach Wells Fargo directly with their presentation and concerns. “Take this to Wells Fargo … talk to the companies … talk to the congressmen … divestment isn’t the only answer to these things.”
Jagdeep Bachner, the UC’s chief investment officer, has been in discussions with other UC financial correspondents regarding divestment from oil companies, but has not made a decision on the issue. Bachner also stated that he will investigate the financial implications the UC may face from divesting from Wells Fargo, in order to determine its feasibility.