Student report finds £5.15m of Jesus College investments go to ‘global exploiters and polluters’

The Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign calls for a ‘bold new, justice-based approach’ to the College’s divestment policies

The Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign (JCCJC) published a report today (21/04) revealing Jesus College’s multi-million pound investment in “global exploiters and polluters” and urging the College to take a bold new “climate justice” approach to divestment.

The report finds that a minimum of £5.15 million has been invested by Jesus College in what JCCJC describe as the “absolute worst-offending global exploiters and polluters.”

The College currently invests £807,000 in fossil fuel companies alone, with the college having major investments in oil-giants Shell and BP.

Jesus College also make “substantial investments” in major fossil fuel funders, according to a press release from JCCJC, including a £27,892.12 investment in JP Morgan.

The report also identifies a further £4 million as being invested in other industries engaged in “ecologically and socially destructive practices”, including other major polluting sectors like mass animal agriculture, as well as those industries engaged in deforestation and biodiversity destruction.

A press release from JCCJC states that such investments “would be ignored by conventional divestment policies which focus narrowly on fossil fuel companies.”

JCCJC have described this “conventional” approach to divestment as “totally inadequate for dealing with the full scope of the climate emergency we face” as it “fails to address those non-fossil fuel industries which are also fuelling the collapse of our planetary life support systems, building their profits on the back of the exploitation of people and planet.”

JCCJC are calling on the College, “as an absolute minimum”, to “broaden the scope” of their divestment policy “to include divestment from all major drivers of climate and ecological breakdown, as well as companies with well-documented records of worker exploitation and human rights violations.”

The campaign encourages the college to leave its current asset manager, Cazenove Capital, a division of the Schroders group and an external fund manager via which the College currently invests approximately £46 million, and which invests on behalf of the College through 22 funds. The other portion of the college’s investments are through the Cambridge University Endowment Fund, which has already committed to full divestment by 2030.

This encouragement by JCCJC to leave Cazenove Capital is due to what they describe as Schroders’ “abysmal” voting record on climate and social resolutions, voting against more than a third of these resolutions in 2020, and the report recommends alternative asset managers with better voting records.

The report also urges for the ending of the College’s dealings with the “unreliable and irresponsible” stock market, in favour of “actively positive, sustainability-driven wealth management options” which directly help communities and the planet.

A transition away from public equity investments and towards what the report describes as the “much more direct positive impact” of “Gold Standard Green Bonds” is encouraged too.

The report notes that Jesus College has recently acknowledged its historic role as a beneficiary of slavery and colonialism, particularly through the benefaction of slave-trader and Jesus College alumnus, Tobias Rustat. Last year, the College decided to remove a memorial to Rustat in the chapel in order to “begin to reckon with its colonial history”, a decision JCCJC welcomes.

However the report claims the College’s current investments “reinforce the college’s colonial legacy” through supporting industries which are either “directly exploiting many of the same communities that were devastated during colonialism” or “fuelling an ecological emergency that is having a disproportionate impact on these communities.” They argue that racial justice and climate justice must be “central” to any Responsible Investment Policy.

This follows the College’s commitment in 2019 to withdraw all its direct investment in fossil fuel industries. However, its indirect investments – which make up the “vast majority” of the College’s investments, according to a press release from JCCJC, currently remain outside the remit of its 2019 pledge, causing the campaign to focus on calling for the College’s “full divestment from ecocidal industries.”

This focus comes after students voting unanimously in favour of it at Ordinary General Meetings, over 320 signatures on JCCJC’s petition and 94 per cent of students supporting it when surveyed by the College Council undergraduate representative.

In October 2020, JCCJC, a group of undergraduate students at Jesus College who advocate the college’s implementation of science-and-justice-based climate action policies, staged a peaceful “die-in” protest on the College’s First Court grass to urge the College to commit to full divestment.

The College is currently devising a new “Responsible Investment Policy.” During this process, the campaign is keen to ensure that divestment is understood as only the first step, and, as the report argues, that divestment alone “does nothing to repair the damage done by decades of investment in them or to positively contribute to building a liveable future.”

Harvey Brown, an author of the report, said: “Divestment is not good enough. The College has a £46 million private investment portfolio and it’s currently using it to legitimise industries which are destroying the planet and exploiting its people.”

“[…] We can, and we must, stop investing in exploitation and extinction and start investing in a just future.”

Ellie Doran, the Environmental and Ethical Affairs Officer for the JCSU, said: “I know that students, Fellows, and staff are all keen to take action on the climate emergency and hopefully this report can prompt us to adopt a broader definition of divestment, one that encompasses all of the major industries fuelling climate breakdown, and encourage us to take direct and meaningful action.”

Ellie describes the report as “exciting” because it “shows students coming up with proactive solutions” and lays out “a detailed roadmap for how Jesus College can be at the front of an ethical and sustainable approach to wealth management.”

A spokesperson for Jesus College said: “At Jesus College we recognise the urgency of climate change. We have been working on a comprehensive set of new policies since before the start of the pandemic. Fellows, students and staff have been involved in developing our first Sustainability Strategy and our new Responsible Investment Policy, due out in the next few months.

“We always welcome engagement and ideas from members of the College as we seek to make a positive impact; some of the authors of the Climate Justice Campaign’s report have made contributions to our plans through consultations, Committee meetings and written submissions.

“Another major way we are making a difference is through our operations, estate and wider holdings. We have been improving our sustainability for almost a decade and in the last year we have launched a huge number of initiatives, from free plant milk in our cafe to investing in a fully sustainable ground source heat pump for our kitchen project. We look forward to sharing our ambitions later this term.”

Jesus College Press Office has been contacted for further comment. 

Feature image credit: N Chadwick, Creative Commons License 

Related articles recommended by this author:

Archaeologists uncover structure from medieval nunnery at Jesus College 

• Meet Kefeshe Bernard, a Cambridge fresher blogging about vegan and zero-waste living 

• ‘Climate justice is racial justice’: Getting to know the Ethical Affairs campaign