Lobbying Companies to Help End Darfur Violence

Contact: Jim Vescovi 212-854-4937
Denise Bell, Sudan country specialist for Amnesty International U.S.A., discussed her efforts to stop the bloodshed in Darfur at the invitation of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Bell began working for Amnesty in November 2004, helping to build grass roots constituencies and raise public consciousness about the situation in Darfur, a region of western Sudan, where an ethnic and tribal conflict pits the Sudanese military and a militia group against the region’s nomadic peoples. As many as 450,000 people have perished in the fighting, according to the United Nations.
Amnesty International typically looks to exert political and diplomatic pressure, Bell said. “But I was interested in the economic dimension. There was, when I began, a nascent effort for divestment,” she said.
Rather than adding her voice to the divestment campaign, Bell targeted companies — mainly investment firms — who were unlikely to divest their positions in oil companies whose activities put money in Sudanese government coffers.
“Instead of divesting, we ask these firms to use their position as large shareholders to call for changes in policy.”
It’s too early to gauge how successful these efforts will be, Bell said. The main oil companies working in Sudan are owned by China, Malaysia and India.
“These companies, less so than Western ones, are less exposed to the criticism and scrutiny that would fall on Western companies by their countries’ citizens,” Bell said. “It’s not a situation like South Africa, where most of the companies working with the apartheid regime were Western.”
Bell splits her time between Amnesty International and Behind the Book, a non-profit literary organization that works with low-income public school students in New York City, where she is director of development.