Trinity Making a Killing

A special Tab investigation reveals all behind Trinity’s money making machine.

arms drones General Dynamics investment Trinity Trinity College unethical

In the last nine years, up to 3549 people have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that up to 890 of those were civilians and between 168 and 200 were children. The CIA, the driving force behind these extra-judicial killings, refuses to acknowledge what’s happening, despite President Obama’s admission in May this year.

It may come as more of a surprise however to learn that Cambridge college endowments – invested money that might be used to fund anything and everything from bursaries to that new portrait of the master – are invested in some of the most dubious and highly unethical companies in the world. This includes manufacturers of drones that are used for the sort of targeted, arguably unlawful, killings outlined above.

General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman manufacture tactical predator-type drones able to deliver deadly payloads whilst a pilot sits thousands of miles away though their use largely remains a secret “The exact systems used by the CIA and other agencies to carry out strikes into Pakistan remain classified.” Peter Singer, of the Brookings Institution, told The Tab. 

These three companies have something else in common: Trinity College owns shares in all of them. Nor does it stop there. Trinity, with an endowment of more than £800,000,000 at the latest count also invests in some of the largest arms, private military and security, and mining companies around the world. Many of these companies have been the subject of censure by human rights organisations.

Like most colleges, Trinity holds two types of investments: direct investments in companies such as General Dynamics and indirect investments in large funds run by private investment firms, such as Cedar Rock or Neptune Income Management.

Trinity College, after voluntarily disclosing its investments has been discovered to hold a large and unpalatable collection of direct investments. The disclosure came following an FOI request from the Cambridge University Sustainable and Responsible Investment Campaign (CUSRIC). Trinity is rare, if not unique, among Cambridge colleges by owning its own ‘boutique’ investment fund called the MSCI All Country World Index tracker fund.  The college’s decision to run its own fund using a tracker means that its ‘basket’ of investments is broad and indiscriminate with no apparent ethical consideration given to the activities of those companies.

As a result, Trinity College has become a shareholder in a number of companies with abhorrent track records; this is unexpected in academic investment practice.

G4S is one such company. G4S – well known in Britain for its Olympic security blunder for which it was forced to shell out £88 million – has a much darker underside.  In June this year, the security behemoth’s annual general meeting was stormed by activists protesting against the corporation’s complicity in the abuse of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

“We were chained up for 24 hours a day. We were kept in windowless rooms and then only allowed to see the sun every other day. I could barely stand in my cell; all it had was a bed. You could hear screaming every night.” ‘Kamal’, a Palestinian political prisoner held in Ktzi’Oit prison by the Israel Prison Authority, was speaking to The Tab about the abhorrent conditions in Ktzi’Ot. Although G4S is not responsible for running Ktzi’Oit, G4S provides security services for at least five such prisons – three of which are in the Occupied Territories – including Ktzi’Oit.

Italy’s Finmeccanica Group is a global hi-tech arms manufacturer. Its record, even excluding the production of nuclear armaments, does not make for easier reading. According to cables obtained by Wikilieaks, two Engineers employed by one of the group’s companies arrived in Syria, after the civil war’s outbreak, to train government officials in the use of Finmeccanica technology. In fact Finmeccanica increased its sale of sophisticated military communications technology to the Syrian government shortly after the civil war’s outbreak. In February of this year, Finmeccanica’s chief executive, Giuseppe Orsi, was arrested on major corruption charges involving an Indian government arms contract.

Trinity shares another dubious honour.  It owns 2360 shares in Finmeccanica Group. The late Colonel Gaddafi owned a bigger stake – 2% of the group’s shares.

Orsi was arrested in February 2013 over bribery allegations in a $550 million deal

Orsi was arrested in February 2013 over bribery allegations in a $550 million deal

 

Like many other colleges, Trinity’s investment strategy ignores ethics in favour of a focus on returns. This assumes that investing ethically will reduce financial returns. Indeed, Gonville and Caius’ previous bursar has argued that the performance of ethical funds “was not as good as standard tracker funds.”

However Bursars at other Cambridge colleges disagree. Joanna Womack, Clare Hall’s Bursar, has in fact stated, “Over five-year and ten-year periods there was virtually no difference in performance [between ethical and standard funds]”. This suggests financial returns are not necessarily significantly diminished by the adherence to an ethical investment policy.

Nick Downer, Selwyn’s senior bursar, maintains that their ethical investment policy “has not been a difficult policy to uphold.” Unlike Trinity, Selwyn prohibits investments in, for example, tobacco companies. St Catherine’s too prohibits investments in tobacco companies, major arms manufacturers and companies “whose environmental policies are deemed to be inconsistent with the College’s aims”.

Overall, it would seem fair to comment that both Cambridge University and Trinity appear behind the times when it comes to Social and Responsible Investment policies. Oxford, UCL, St Andrews, and the world’s wealthiest university, Harvard – amongst others – all have explicit ethical investment policies. In sharp contrast, however, Trinity does not whilst the University’s statement on the matter is vague, making no explicit commitment on the matter.

And what’s the effect of not having a strict ethical investment policy in place? It is being allowed, for instance, to hold, as Trinity does, 10,000 shares in the mammoth mining company, Anglo-American.

To drill down to details: A 2007 report by the British charity War on Want accused Anglo-American of profiting from countries blighted by Civil War, where human rights abuses are rife.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more have died than in any other post-WWII conflict, the report alleged that an Anglo-American subsidiary, AngloGold Ashanti, bribed a local paramilitary-armed group in order to facilitate its gold mining operations in areas they controlled. Later In 2007, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the leader of this armed group, General Katanga, for his involvement in killings, use of child soldiers and sexual enslavement.

It is also important to remember that both Cambridge University and Trinity are registered charities. All registered charities in the UK ‘must have purposes all of which are exclusively charitable.’

If you happened to be wandering around the Amazon this summer and found yourself in the area known as the Oriente, you would have had quite a shock. Luscious leaves, dripping dew and towering trees give way – quite suddenly – to a vast, ugly and expansive scar on the landscape. These are the remains of Chevron’s extensive oil exploration project. In an area around three times the size of Manhattan, Chevron – one of the world’s richest energy companies – left behind around 1,000 open-air, unlined waste pits filled with crude and toxic sludge. They have never cleared them up.

Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Chevron in the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest  Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Chevron in the Ecuadorean Amazon Rainforest
Photo by Caroline Bennett / Rainforest Action Network

As a Cambridge College, one might have expected Trinity to take its lead from the University’s published charitable aims. The University’s statement of charitable purposes identifies an explicit ‘concern for environmental sustainability.’ This does not sit well with Trinity’s position as a shareholder in Chevron group – it in fact owns 13,896 Chevron shares.

It is surprising – although not illegal – that Trinity’s investments are so at odds with the University’s stated aims; they are, after all, both educational institutions. Sadly we could not investigate whether the University’s investments are at odds with its own charitable purposes. Cambridge University authorities refused to disclose details of their investments, citing an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

This exemption allows organisations to protect information sensitive to ‘commercial interests’. There are however two exceptions: where the ‘public interest’ outweighs commercial interest or where debate by members of the organization is being prevented.

Cambridge’s failure to disclose begs the question of whether the University is hiding behind the statute – are they acting to the letter but not the spirit of the law – in order to conceal their dirty laundry? Why is the public interest in transparency by a public institution being overridden and denied?  The Tab will seek to investigate this issue further.

The Tab feels sure that neither Cambridge nor the governing body of any Cambridge college (including Trinity) supports the actions of the companies we have mentioned. We, however, urge the University, Trinity and other colleges to consider the grave potential for reputational damage that their current investments and their lack of publicly available ethical investment policies expose them to.

In fact, the principle is simple. “Colleges have money invested in some highly unethical companies” CUSRIC’s Daniel Macmillen explained to The Tab.

‘It’s simple: if it’s wrong to do something it’s wrong to profit from that thing.”

The full list of Trinity’s direct investments, which also include Monsanto and arms manufacturers Thales and BAE Systems is available here.

Throughout the term we’ll be publishing more explosive revelations involving the investment practice of other Cambridge Colleges. Check The Tab’s website next week for the lowdown.

It could be your college next.