AES Faces Controversy Over PetroChina Shares

The Andover Economics Society (AES) purchased six shares of PetroChina last January in an investment that, according to the head of Phillips Academy’s anti-genocide coalition STAND, indirectly supports genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. But “PetroChina is not actually invested in Darfur at all,” said Chris Waskom ’08, Vice-President of AES. Founded in an effort to “educate the PA campus about investment,” AES made its first investment last year by buying stock in PetroChina, said Co-President of AES Emerson Moore ’08. “What we basically saw was a diamond in the rough,” Moore said. Club members decided to purchase six shares of PetroChina for approximately $775 — now, AES’s PetroChina stock is valued at about $1,200. Daniel Glassberg ’09, head of Phillips Academy’s anti-genocide coalition STAND, thinks the club’s decision had unforeseen consequences – like indirectly funding genocide in Darfur. Glassberg said that PetroChina has close ties with the Sudanese governmen, which is blamed in part for the genocide in Darfur, a western region of Sudan. AES leaders like Moore and Waskom said that PetroChina is a subsidiary of CNCP, the Chinese government-run oil company. CNCP, not PetroChina, operates in Sudan, Waskom said. But Glassberg called PetroChina itself the “biggest of the big companies” that is on the black list of corporations dealing in Sudan. John Gwin ’07 and Carter Boyle ’07 were Co-Presidents of AES last year when it purchased PetroChina stock. AES’s investment is “not a significant amount, but it’s significant enough that we should talk about it,” Glassberg said. The club’s choice of business venture was voted on democratically. Its constitution stipulates that three-fifths of all members present must agree for a particular transaction to be executed. The club accordingly reviewed PetroChina and saw it as a sound investment. As a registered corporation in the state of Massachusetts, AES has approximately $5,000 in a brokerage account and is permitted to invest in the stock market. Glassberg said that AES, as a shareholder of a publicly-traded company, holds a certain amount of influence over PetroChina’s operations. But AES leaders said that their influence was very small. “We own six shares of a company that recently hit a $1 trillion market capitalization,” said Waskom. Glassberg acknowledged that an investment in PetroChina is a prudent one. Glassberg said that AES should engage PetroChina by writing a letter “explaining how they disagree with the company’s actions” and also that they should divest their shares in PetroChina. Waskom disagreed, saying, “Why don’t we all write letters to the Chinese government telling them to divest their CNCP holdings.” Waskom said, “AES holds the same opinion that [Warren] Buffett holds on PetroChina, that PetroChina has no holdings in Sudan.” Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, a major conglomerate holding company, had previously recognized PetroChina’s value and gradually accumulated 2.3 billion shares of the company. However, Buffett has recently chosen to divest Berkshire Hathaway’s stock from PetroChina, although Berkshire Hathaway said in a statement that this action was “based on price.” After an initial public offering (IPO) in China several weeks ago, PetroChina is valued at over $1 trillion, greater than the estimated worth of the largest American oil company, ExxonMobil. The Sudanese government, which faces serious economic and political problems, depends primarily on international corporations to process Sudan’s oil. A subsidiary of the state-owned energy conglomerate China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which has a virtual monopoly on China’s oil and gas industry, PetroChina has the ability to process this oil, Glassberg said. According to the Sudan Divestment Task Force, an American organization that supports divestment from PetroChina, 70 to 80 percent of Sudan’s oil revenue is used to further its military. Because of this, Glassberg said, “even a miniscule amount of money supports the genocide.” AES also holds shares in McDonald’s Corporation, Meritage Homes Corporation and Banco Colombia.