Interview: The students exposing Jesus College’s investment in ‘exploitation and extinction’

Simply divesting ‘does nothing to actively repair the damage done by decades of investment or positively contribute to building a liveable future’

The Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign has released a report exposing Jesus College’s £5.15 million investments in “ecologically and socially destructive industries”, according to a JCCJC press release. The 152-page exposé traces Jesus College’s financial relationships and recommends alternative, more ethical options.

The Tab Cambridge spoke to the Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign (JCCJC) on the makings of their report, the complacency of partially divested colleges, and why conventional forms of divestment just aren’t enough in the fight for climate justice. 

Jesus College students want justice

A collective of Jesus students, the JCCJC advocates for Jesus College to adopt “science-and-justice-based climate action policies.” For the Campaign, the climate crisis is an unprecedented emergency requiring an emergency response.

Though the university has committed to full divestment by 2030, and some colleges have taken steps in the right direction, the JCCJC, like other Cambridge student-run climate campaigns, outlines that much more must be done.

Zak Coleman, report co-author and former Jesus College Students Union (JCSU) Environmental and Ethical Affairs Officer, describes how the JCCJC was created amidst the feeling that “there was so much activism around divestment, but at Jesus it just felt quite slow.” 

Founded to break student environmental advocacy out of “the framework of the institution,” in the past six months the JCCJC have held die-in protests and written a petition with over 350 signatures. This new report comes as a manifestation of these students’ calls for Jesus College to urgently fully divest from “ecocidal industries” and corrupt investors.

The Jesus College Justice Campaign (JCCJC) organised a socially distanced die-in protest on the Jesus College First Court lawn in October 2020

Investigating Jesus College’s relationship with the ‘absolute worst-offending global exploiters and polluters’

Part of a greater sustainability strategy, Jesus College’s initial decision to partially divest from fossil fuels in 2019 was, at first, seen as a progressive head-on approach to the climate crisis. However, what started in Lent term this year as the JCCJC’s deep dive into the College’s “fossil fuel investments” soon became a four-month investigation into the harmful entanglements underlying its financial relationships.

The report reveals that Jesus College still has £46 million being invested on the College’s behalf via Cazenove Capital. Cazenove, as explained by economics student and report contributor Will Ellis, is an external private fund manager that “voted against approximately 40 per cent of social-environmental issues put forward”. They also ranked in “the bottom of the Top 6 asset managers in terms of how they voted on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues”, showing that Cazenove are considerably lagging behind when it comes to environmental and social responsibility.

The JCCJC’s research into the College’s monetary dealings also exposes millions invested in fossil fuels, arms companies and other “worst-offending exploiters and polluters” including Samsung, Amazon, Barclays and HSBC. Report writer Harvey Brown explains: “Once we knew that the College is also investing in BAE Systems whose products are responsible for war times in Yemen, we [couldn’t] just ask for them to divest from fossil fuels. It needed to be so much bigger.”

JCCJC have looked in great detail at the harmful entanglements underlying Jesus College’s financial relationships

To ensure that “the rights of all people are upheld,” the JCCJC’s report also couples environmental justice with anti-racism. In line with work done by the College’s Legacies of Slavery Working Party, it seeks to dismantle Jesus College’s colonial legacy and investigates its links with the exploitation of workers in the “Global South.”

Zak describes that the climate crisis not only exploits the “natural world,” but also “workers who are disproportionately drawn from poorer communities in the Global South.” For full climate justice, “colonialism and imperialism — the processes which have created hierarchies of wealth and infrastructure, and devastated communities of colour” need to be challenged and dismantled.

It’s not just about removing Shell and BP

Simply divesting, the report argues “does nothing to actively repair the damage done by decades of investment or positively contribute to building a liveable future.” The JCCJC emphasises that the definition of divestment needs to change from “removing direct complicity with the worst drivers of the problem” to removing all drivers of the problem.

The report urges Jesus College to invest in impact bonds from issuers with ethical and sustainable track records as an alternative to current public equity investment strategies. Green bonds, financial units that fund “actively positive” eco-friendly projects, are at the top of JCCJC’s list of more environmentally friendly financial options.

The JCCJC does not want to hear any more excuses of lack of time, willingness or energy. Instead of placing the responsibility on a few administrative figures, the team wants colleges to establish student internships, working groups and research fellowships dedicated specifically to climate justice.

Divestment only from fossil fuel industries is simply not enough anymore – we need to cut ties with all ‘ecologically and socially destructive’ industries

We can ‘sleepwalk into climate catastrophe’ or ‘we can change the conversation’

Having acknowledged the need to incorporate more stringent sustainability and ethical criteria, Jesus College is in the process of updating its Responsible Investment Policy. The JCCJC hopes this report’s recommendations positively feed into the adapted Policy.

Ellie, the current JCSU Environmental and Ethical Affairs Officer, describes that the report can be a “roadmap” for other colleges. She describes how it shows students that “we can do better and go beyond what we have already accomplished.”

Zak reminds student activists to “stay angry and keep the kettle boiling.” He explains that “to precipitate an urgent crisis response across every level of society, we need to see the climate crisis on a scale probably several factors bigger than the Covid crisis.” 

The JCCJC reminds student activists to “stay angry” and “keep the kettle boiling.”

With the closure of the interview comes a call from the JCCJC to Cambridge students. To take climate justice action “the key phrase is constant pressure,” describes Ellie. “It doesn’t have to be writing a 100-page report. You can email your bursar, create a climate society, host talks to raise issues, or do a protest. Just keep it up — no matter how big or small.”

You can read the full Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign report ‘Investing In Exploitation and Extinction: Why Climate Justice Demands that Jesus College goes Beyond Divestment’ here.

Feature image credit and all image credits: The Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign. 

When asked for comment, 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.”

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