London uni becomes first in UK to ban fossil fuel employers from recruiting students

Birkbeck University said it ‘will not hold relationships of any kind with oil, gas or mining companies’

Birkbeck, University of London, has become the first uni in the country to ban oil, gas or mining companies from advertising or recruiting students through its career service.

This decision came after advocacy from Birkbeck Climate Network for the Fossil Free Careers campaign, initiated by the nationwide student-led group People & Planet.

J Clarke, Co-Director OF Climate Campaigns at People & Planet, gives Birkbeck “full recognition” for its unprecedented decision and hopes “this win will be the first domino for U.K. universities ending the recruitment pipeline from education into the companies most responsible for the climate crisis and global environmental injustice.”

Endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), the Fossil Free Careers campaign has three main goals. They want unis to stop all current relationships with fossil fuel companies, not build any new ones, and officially ban these companies from recruitment opportunities in their policies.

The campaign claims by “actively promoting careers” in these fields, “universities are reinforcing the power of those industries and contributing to the climate and ecological crisis.”

A reason they chose to target career services is that similar things have been done before. They cited how 20 per cent of unis’ careers services already ban one or more controversial industries – like tobacco, sex work, and gambling – from advertising and recruiting through them.

The campaign thinks this cause resonates with many students as they’re collectively becoming “more and more engaged with environmental issues” and realising that “careers in extractive industries have no future.” 

There have also been many previous examples across the country where fossil fuel recruiters are being “chased off” campuses. For example, Oxford students blockaded a local hotel hosting a fossil fuel giant’s recruiting event in 2019, and protesters “sent two of the world’s biggest oil companies running off campus” at Sheffield University on the same day.

Despite a long history of demonstrations, the Fossil Free Careers campaign said the new development at Birkbeck is their “first victory.”

The London uni’s new ethical careers policy says it “will not hold relationships of any kind with oil, gas or mining companies as part of our commitment to increased sustainability and addressing the climate crisis.” In practice, this looks like banning companies associated with extraction from “attendance at careers fairs and other recruitment opportunities, posting role vacancies, sponsorships and advertising.”

A Career Consultant at Birkbeck, Julius Cassebaum, said: “Birkbeck Futures are happy to announce that we are now a fossil free careers service, in line with People & Planet’s mission to end university careers services working with oil, gas and mining companies. As the climate crisis continues, we are proud to help minimise exposure to those industries in any capacity that we can. We hope that our commitment can be a stepping stone for other universities to follow suit soon.”

Chris Davis, a student campaigner of Birkbeck Climate Network, is “thrilled that Birkbeck is leading the way on ending the recruitment pipeline into the oil, gas and mining industries.”

“For nearly 200 years, social justice has sat at the heart of Birkbeck’s mission to provide inclusive education for all, and climate justice should therefore be central to the College’s institutional vision as it enters its third century. We hope this will encourage Birkbeck to take further steps on its journey towards becoming a leader in environmental sustainability and look forward to seeing other universities taking similar action,” they said.

Feature image credit: @peopleandplanetnetwork on Instagram.

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