Legislation aims to divest state money from Sudan

Published March 3, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Florida's pension fund could have to sell holdings in some companies that do business in Sudan under a bill designed to add pressure on the African nation's government to end an ongoing genocide.

The state has about $140-million in holdings in about 12 foreign companies which are on a list of companies that activists say have "the most problematic operations in Sudan."

A measure being pushed by state Sen. Ted Deutch would require the State Board of Administration to sell holdings in companies that continue supporting or directly providing supplies or services to the Sudanese government.

"The citizens of Florida have a right to determine whether or not the public dollars invested by our state should be supporting genocide," said Deutch, a freshman Democrat from Boca Raton.

Deutch's bill (SB 2142) would add Florida to a growing list of states trying to send a message about Sudan.

Illinois was the first state to vote, almost two years ago, to stop investing in companies that do business there. Illinois' pension fund divested about $1-billion in January 2006.

Six states - California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey and Oregon - have since taken steps to divest public pension money from companies doing business in the African nation. Colorado, Idaho and Nebraska are also considering divestment, and some cities, including Providence, R.I., and more than 30 colleges and universities have joined the movement.

The Darfur region of Sudan has been torn by violence since 2003, with tribal rebels being targeted by militias that observers say are supported by the government. At least 200,000 people have died and 2.5-million have become refugees.

The U.S. government accuses the Sudanese government of complicity in the genocide and International Criminal Court prosecutors have also said there is a clear link between Sudanese authorities and the janjaweed militias blamed for much of Darfur's bloodshed.

Sudan has rejected the allegations.

Daniel Millenson, national advocacy director of the Sudan Divestment Task Force in Washington, D.C., said most states that have divested have sold off tiny amounts of stock in the overall scheme of their pension funds - less than one-third of a percent for most.

That would be the case in Florida, too. The state investment portfolio is about $150-billion, with the $118-billion pension fund by far the largest part of that.

If Florida were to sell $140-million of assets, it would be less than one-tenth of a percent.

And with the nation's fourth-largest public retirement plan, Florida can send a larger message than some other states, proponents of the idea say.

The Sudan Divestment Task Force has been pushing governments to do "targeted divestment," which tries to identify the companies that are most involved in Sudan, rather than pushing for blanket divestment, which could capture companies that are actually helping the situation there.

"These are companies that aid the Sudanese government without helping," Millenson said.