Afrikan Black Coalition petitions for Wells Fargo to end association with private prison industry

The Afrikan Black Coalition held its annual conference Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend at UC Irvine.
Rasheed Shabazz/Courtesy
The Afrikan Black Coalition held its annual conference Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend at UC Irvine.

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The Afrikan Black Coalition released a petition Monday for the University of California to divest $425 million from Wells Fargo should it remain associated with private prison corporations.

This petition, which has acquired more than 1,100 signatures as of Wednesday, calls for the university’s divestment if Wells Fargo does not cancel its business relationships with the private prison industry by Feb. 20. The petition also asks that the university reinvest the money into education and companies owned or controlled by the formerly incarcerated.

The ABC said in a statement that the university’s investment in Wells Fargo is unethical and financially risky for several reasons, including that Wells Fargo owns nearly 1.5 million shares in the GEO Group Inc. and the Corrections Corporation of America. The university sold $25 million in shares of these two corporations, along with G4S, in December.

“In the age of the privatization of prisons, incarcerated Black people are traded as bodies and dollar signs in the stock exchange, much like a virtual slave auction block,” said ABC deputy communications director Blake Simons in an email. The aim of this petition is to let Wells Fargo know that the community condemns their $900 million credit line to private prisons.”

The ABC is also petitioning for the institution of a university policy to never invest in private prison corporations and for the implementation of a socially responsible investment screening committee, with representatives from the ABC and the UC Student Association, to research the ethics of the corporations in which the university invests.

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the university is a longterm investor and has a policy against blanket divestments. Klein said in an email, however, that the university has a sustainable investment policy, which takes into account social, governance and environmental issues.

“When the Office of the Chief Investment Officer evaluates possible investments, its chief concern is financial, while keeping in mind other risk factors,” Klein said in an email. “(Ours) is not a strictly morality based investment strategy.”

Wells Fargo spokesperson Ruben Pulido said in an email that Wells Fargo holds no investment in the GEO or the CCA, does not have a seat on either company’s board of directors and does not dictate their policies or business models. Instead, Wells Fargo Funds — owned by investors — holds a position in the companies, according to Pulido.

“Applicable laws and internal governance do not allow the bank to dictate which stocks the fund managers may buy or sell,” he said. “In addition, the holdings of the mutual funds are segregated from Wells Fargo’s own assets.”

The ABC plans to deliver the petition signatures to the UC Board of Regents on March 20.

“This is a fight we are prepared to wage until we win,” said Yoel Haile, ABC political director, in an email. “Black students will no longer tolerate the disrespect and indignity of having our money go to fund our people’s misery.”

Amelia Mineiro covers student government. Contact her at [email protected].