The Harvard Management Company, which oversees the university’s investments, is under fire for owning environmentally sensitive land near the Amazon in Brazil, which critics say leads to environmental devastation.
The Harvard Crimson reported Tuesday that activist students are demanding that the university sell 300,000 hectares of wooded grass that borders the rainforest.
On Monday morning, about a dozen members of Divest Harvard conducted a sit-in at the Science Center Plaza. At the demonstration, Altamiran L. Ribeiro, an organizer from the Pastoral Land Commission of the Catholic Church in Piaui, Brazil, spoke about Harvard’s land ownership in Brazil. ActionAid, a global social justice and anti-poverty group, joined the protest.
Speaking in Portuguese through an interpreter, Ribeiro told about 20 protesters that Harvard’s land practices lead to environmental devastation.
“Each piece of land that Harvard buys, in any part of the world, they are grabbing land that belongs to someone else,” said Ribeiro. “Every dollar that Harvard invests in soy production for biofuels is also destroying lives because in soy production they use pesticides that contaminate the soil and water and the people who live around it.”
Ribeiro added that the land investments harm water sources that affect the indigenous people in the region.
“We cannot allow [Harvard] to say they’re investing there to guarantee the future of the University and those who will have their pensions and investments because that’s a big lie,” he said. “The profit that comes from those investments is a profit that is tainted with blood, pain and suffering from those communities.”
In 2018, activist group Genetic Resources Action International reported that Harvard owned the land. It also found that Harvard’s endowment spent around $1 billion to acquire control of an estimated 850,000 hectares of farmland around the world.
In 2017, Divest Harvard successfully demanded that the university sell investments in fossil fuels. This came after the group found out that, of the 1% of the $40 billion endowment that is publicly listed, $5.6 million was invested in the fossil fuel industry.
A HMC spokesperson declined to comment.
The Harvard endowment was valued at $40.9 billion as of June 30. It recorded a 6.5% return on assets during fiscal year 2019. According to 2017 tax filings, CEO NP “Narv” Narvekar recorded a $9.3 million annual salary, with a $5.5 million bonus.
Rebeca Serson, a student from Sao Paulo, called the university’s land ownership practices “deplorable.”
“How can this institution that we look up to do so much contributing to something like this?”