Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What does Ditch Digging have to do with Darfur?

A sidebar advertisement asked me, "Are you making a killing on the market?" Its stark, serious typography told me it wasn't for an investment firm. There were no reassuring tones: no soothing blue, prosperity green, or authoritative gold. I clicked the link, wondering what connection would be made between investments and the loss of human life.

I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that I may be one of the people making the killing.

A few months ago, I was happy to see that my tiny retirement account had grown by a few hundred dollars. The account, left over from my days digging ditches, if you can believe that, is my only investment. I've never taken much interest in it--American Funds tells me they're The right choice for the long term (r) and I take their word for it.

I knew that China's state-run oil company was one of the bad guys in the Darfur genocide, funding the Sudanese government in defiance of the international attempt to isolate it. What I didn't put together was that American Funds of course invests in China National Petroleum (and their subsidiary, PetroChina). Activists have encouraged American Funds and other mutual fund firms to divest from these companies. American Funds' website has a link for their "approach to socially responsible investing."

Short version: Sad deal about the murder and rape thing, but we exist to make money, you know. It says so in the prospectus.

I haven't quite figured out yet whether any of my funds own PetroChina stock (like I said, I haven't paid much attention--I don't know exactly where my paperwork is), but I guess I better act on some of the principles I've talked about in this blog and find out.

A friend's status on facebook was recently "wondering how I can practice an ethic of love towards the people who represent, and knowingly benefit from, the very privileges that make my life more difficult?" It's a good question, but it's one that I don't really have to answer for myself. My much, much smaller irritation lies in discovering how easy it is for me to get enmeshed in new privileges that make others' lives difficult.

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