Amnesty International Scolds University Endowments for Human Rights Indifference

The report gives failing grades to several major university investment offices due to a lack of ‘human rights due diligence.’

As endowments allocate more funds to venture capital investments, they are increasingly becoming complicit in human rights violations, according to a recent report from Amnesty International.

In the report, Amnesty International accused venture capital firms of neglecting to conduct adequate due diligence to make sure their investments are not helping fund human rights abuses. Citing one of its reports from 2021, Amnesty International said that among 53 of the world’s largest VC firms and start-up accelerators it surveyed, only one “potentially had human rights due diligence processes” that met United Nations standards. The report added that 44 of the firms and accelerators showed no evidence of conducting any human rights due diligence at all.

“Yet responsibility for this situation does not lie solely with venture capital firms,” the report said in a nod to major university endowments. “Large institutional investors who supply the funding that VC firms use to make their investments are also responsible.”

Amnesty International said the largest university endowments devote a “substantial share” of their portfolios to private investments, including private equity and venture capital. It cited a NACUBO-TIAA study that found that endowments larger than $1 billion hold, on average, 25.6% of their investments in private equity, including venture capital.

Amnesty International’s report, the Limited Partner Scorecard, graded 10 of the largest university investment offices in the U.S. on their human rights due diligence processes regarding venture capital investments. According to the report, the universities—Duke, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, the University of California system, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas and Texas A&M system, and Yale—control more than $426 billion dollars in assets. Of those 10, seven received a failing grade.

The seven that failed Amnesty International’s scoring were Duke, MIT, Penn, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Chicago and the University of Texas and Texas A&M system. Only Harvard, the University of California system and Yale received grades of C or better.

The report assessed each university investment office against more than a dozen separate indicators that covered their commitment to things such as responsible investment; environmental, social and governance issues; human rights due diligence; stewardship of and engagement with their investments; and their commitment to disclosure and transparency.

“The fact that many of the country’s leading universities don’t care to make sure their billions in investments are upholding human rights is appalling and completely irresponsible,” Michael Kleinman, Amnesty International USA’s national director of technology and human rights, said in a release.


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