The University’s Dark Side: A Discussion on Ethical Investments

Don’t think our university would dabble in controversial industries? Well, think again.

Discussion Ethical Investments Monsanto Predator Drones Rio Tinto Royal Dutch Shell Ultra Electronics University of Edinburgh

A shocking revelation and initially promising discussion turns into a classic student vs. establishment squabble.

  • £38 million invested in fossil fuel companies.
  • £6 million invested in arms companies.
  • £1.2 million invested in Ultra Electronics, a manufacturer of predator drones.
  • Millions of pounds invested in companies that have been accused of human rights abuses such as Monsanto, Rio Tinto and Royal Dutch Shell.

Wait, I think I recognize the badge on that arm.

The list above might look like something out of a Goldman Sachs investor’s personal portfolio. I have the misfortune of telling you that it is taken out of our university’s own books.

On Wednesday evening People and Planet, in conjunction with EUSA, set out to shed some light on the, shall we call it murky, activity of our university’s investment committee.

We were told there was no guarantee our tuition fees aren’t being invested in these companies. We were told predator drones have killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis and Yemenis and we were told those very drones directly counteract our university’s aims by preventing parents from sending children to school in the aforementioned countries. Needless to say, it was a lot to take in.

But as shocking as this information was to hear, perhaps even more shocking was the defeatist attitude on display from the speakers selected to talk at the event. It seemed as though in their effort to produce a balanced discussion, People and Planet forgot to bring their own speakers, with all but one suggesting that putting pressure on the university to change its policies was pointless, naive and a waste of time.

The crowd’s initial enthusiasm was certainly dampened by the speakers’ arguments that investing in arms and fossil fuel industries are considered invaluable for producing a less risky portfolio, but it was Dr. Remus Valsan who really hammered home the point, repeatedly mentioning that trustee law prevents the university from forgoing financially prudent investments for more ethical ones. His closing line? Divesting in arms companies could get the university sued.

Ouch

In the end, the whole discussion turned into a rather awkward students vs. speakers dogfight with one side focusing on the value of law and patience, and the other arguing for drastic change and a defence of principles. I’ll let you guess which arguments belonged to what group.

Apparently we sponsor this stuff…

So what did I take from the evening? Well apparently the university’s sole claim to ethical conduct is that it no longer invests in tobacco – pause for applauds everyone – and as for the rest, well we’re supposedly better off sitting around waiting for corporations to change their own attitudes to social responsibility.

Something tells me those children in Pakistan and Yemen wouldn’t think too highly of that strategy.