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The Lancaster City Councillors representing University and Scotforth Rural Ward have criticised Lancaster University for its investment in British American Tobacco.
The University’s investment funds are split between direct investments and investments made on behalf of the University. The University’s direct investments are through Brooks Macdonald, an investment management firm in Manchester, and include no holdings in tobacco companies.
However, the University has three donated endowment funds which are invested on the University’s behalf by Cazenove Capital. They include a £25,995 investment in British American Tobacco out of a portfolio of £1.85 million. A University spokesperson told SCAN that the University has “no control over the day to day investment decisions of the funds.” They also noted that two of the funds had recently divested from any direct investment in the tobacco industry.
The Guardian reported on 31 October that British American Tobacco is being subject to a landmark case brought by human rights lawyers Leigh Day. The case is on behalf of hundreds of children and their families who have been forced by poverty wages to “work in conditions of gruelling hard labour in the fields of Malawi.”
Martyn Day, one of the partners of Leigh Day, told The Guardian: “It is totally depressing that one of the largest companies in the world, and certainly one of the largest British companies, is involved in an area where the employment of children is such a fundamental part of what happens. It has been going on for decades, and as a result of all of that the farmers of Malawi are caught in a Groundhog Day, where one generation after another is having to farm tobacco and is caught in a poverty trap.”
British American Tobacco has also been subject to an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office since 2017 for allegations it paid bribes to officials in East Africa. The allegations were first made in a BBC Panorama documentary in 2015.
The City Councillors for University and Scotforth Rural declared in a Facebook post “Shame on Lancaster University” and called for it to divest from BAT. The motion on a Climate Emergency proposed by Cllr Jack O’Dwyer-Henry and passed at the Students’ Union’s AGM on 28 October noted the investment in BAT. It called on the University to “immediately, completely, and permanently divest from all fossil fuel companies, as well as any companies associated with the arms trade and tobacco industry.” It also demanded the creation and implementation of an Ethical Investments Policy and said the University should make its investments public on a quarterly basis, open to ongoing scrutiny by a staff-student body.
In “Ask The Officers” Episode 2, released on 5 November, SU President George Nuttall said in response to one of the questions: “As per the Climate Emergency motion I am going to bring a paper, raised as part of my Union report, to University Council, which is the board of the University. [It will be] around asking the University to divest from fossil fuels and other businesses which seem to be morally questionable, such as investment in the arms trade, to try and hopefully start that process.”
A University spokesperson told SCAN that the agreed policy of the University with regard to its direct investments is “to invest in companies actively looking for solutions to environmental challenges associated with growing populations, climate change and resources scarcity through innovation, technology and the intelligent use of natural resources.”