University to hold investment discussions

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On Monday Week 6, an Ethical Investment Policy put forward by Lancaster University’s Ethical Investment Group (LUEIG) will finally be considered by the University. Currently, around 14% of the University’s investments are in fossil fuels and nearly 4% of investments are in the arms trade. The divestment from these unethical investments are something which the group have been campaigning against for the last academic year, along with the proposal to establish an ethical investment policy, as part of a wider nationwide initiative.

The group have set up an online petition entitled “Divest Lancaster University from Unethical Investment”, with the hope that the University will commit to the following requirements: adopt an ethical investment policy, with commitment to divestment from fossil fuels and the arms trade, elect a student position on the investment committee, create a committee where investments can be scrutinised, and for these investments to be made public/transparent so that these decisions can be made from an informed perspective and at least 25% of investments in renewables; energy efficiency; and the university’s own activities, like the mental health services. At the time SCAN went to print, the LUEIG petition had just over 1000 signatures.

The proposal for this Ethical Investment Policy will go for discussion at the University Management Advisory Group (UMAG) on the morning of Monday Week 6, and will then go onto the Finance and General Purposes Committee (a sub-committee of University Council) for discussion on Friday Week 7. CCO (Environment & Ethics) Polly Davis has told SCAN: “It’s hard to know what this decision will be, as there are lots of possible options, from liquidation of all investments to a decision to disinvest from tobacco, but not fossil fuels and the arms trade. What happens next thus really depends on what happens in that meeting. The goal is to make sure that ethical investment becomes a long-term priority for the university, and that this is implemented through such procedures as an ethical investment policy and an investments committee with student representation. We’ve had a lot of support from staff, students and LUSU, so we hope to get it passed.” Davis also told SCAN that they have been working on a separate university staff letter of support for the campaign.

In response to questions surrounding the justifiability of its unethical investments, the University have said: “As of this morning, the University’s investments totalled £75M of which £72M is invested as cash deposits with banks and building societies. The balance of £3M is managed by external fund managers on behalf of the University. Within this portfolio the total value of shares held in oil and gas and tobacco related industries is £233k and £55k respectively, which represents less than 0.5% of the University’s total investments.” While these statistics appear to be incoherent with those initially presented, the complication in the statistics supplied by the University is something which members of LUEIG have addressed previous in discussions with SCAN.

President Laura Clayson responded to these statistics saying that “the statistics cited make up the percentage of the fund manager, Cazenove, which is based down in London.” In an article for SCAN in Michaelmas Term, Davis and Rachel Preston explain how there are problems with the statistics provided by the University, expanding on Clayson’s point. They said: “What complicates this situation further is that the University does not have any control over where their funds are invested at any one time, as their money is outsourced to a fund manager. The University’s fund manager – Cazenove – chooses the most lucrative and profitable companies to invest in, not the University itself.”

Therefore the figures given by the University do not appear to represent their complete portfolio of investment, but rather the smaller funds controlled by an outside source. This could thus obscure conclusions by excluding some of the University’s unethical investments from the overall statistics. LUEIG have said that they demand the University to reconsider its present investment portfolio and to outsource to fund managers who offer an ethical portfolio, one which reflects our ideals and values as an institution.

Regarding their future plans concerning divestment from unethical investments, the University have said: “The University has already committed to reviewing its investment strategy and performance, including ethical considerations. An independent company was appointed last month to help the University in this exercise and an Investment Review Update will be considered by the University’s Finance and General Purposes Committee later this month.”

As well as the proposal being discussed with the University, Friday Week 5 marks the national Global Divestment Day and a Fossil Free day of action and LUEIG will be running a number of events in Alexandra Square to mark this occasion and to further heighten support for their campaign. Jonathan Martin, a member of LUEIG told SCAN that this may include people covering themselves in oil and running around in mops and that supporters will also be wearing orange. Davis hopes that through their protesting and petitioning on Friday, the group will have gained more petition signatures and have raised awareness for the campaign.

She also said “Lancaster University is trying its hardest to be a “green” institution. We have a wind turbine, an environment centre and the Eco-Hub. Yet we continue to be invested in fossil fuels. Similarly, we teach courses on Peace Studies yet funnel money into the Arms Trade. We feel that our university should be building connections with ethical, environmentally friendly companies in order to allow our students, research and careers to access a sustainable future. I would encourage students to sign the petition if they, too, believe in a sustainable future.”

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