I recently sent an email in response to a student campaigner who wanted some advice on getting an EI campaign going. Just in case some of it might be of use to other people working on investment campaigns, I thought I'd put it up here!

Why EI?

First and foremost I'd strongly advise that you think about the following question:

What are you trying to achieve with your EI campaign?

It sounds like a boring and obvious question, but is really worth thinking about seriously - do you just want your Uni to disinvest from certain "bad things" (regardless of whether or not this has any impact on the behaviour of the companies concerned), or do you want to have some sort of bigger impact on the world? Ethical (or "Socially Responsible") investment is a campaign tool, not an end in itself. If you run a three-year campaign and get your uni to sell off a few dozen arms shares, was that really the best use of your campaigning time and energy compared to other campaigns that you could have been running?

I'd really recommend thinking about the issues first - do you want to use EI to tackle global warming? Reduce the number of arms being produced and sold across the world? Halt a specific destructive project by a particular company? How could EI be used to achieve those aims? Does it need to be combined with other campaigns, or coordinated with campaigners at other Unis? The more specific and focused you are, the more likely you are to have a real effect. Thinking about it carefully and strategically can achieve much more than just marching into the Uni and demanding that they invest ethically (especially when there's so much disagreement over what that means in any case...).

These are the kinds of ethical investment campaigns that seem, from real-life examples, to have had the most impact:

* SOME divestment campaigns - if they're high-profile, carried out in coordination with lots of other investors, generate loads of media coverage, and have a very specific and strategic goal (e.g. challenging apartheid in South Africa). A uni quietly selling off a few dodgy shares to keep its students quiet has little measurable impact beyond the campus (although it may help to educate and inspire people on-campus).

* SOME shareholder action, but only if it happens through clear accountable channels (such as shareholder resolutions), not through vague, behind-closed-doors "company engagement"; it also needs a clear, specific goal that shareholders can unite around (e.g. the successful campaign against Balfour Beatty that stopped the Ilisu dam).

* Campaigning to create permanent socially responsible investment committees within Universities, that have student (and ideally alumni) representatives, and lead to gradual improvement in the Uni's ethical stance over the years. This is what has happened in a number of US Universities, and can be part of a wider campaign to make Unis greener and more ethical.

* Campaigns to get the University to invest in something concrete and positive, such as local community projects or on-campus renewable energy generation. Could UK students even set up some exciting new fund or project that tackles climate change or some other big issue in an innovative way, and campaign for Unis to invest in it? I just think that investment campaigns would be so much more interesting and inspiring if as well as saying "don't invest in that bad thing" we could say "invest in this good thing instead". Especially if it was a good thing that we had created, rather than some faintly green "ethical" fund run as a side project by some big nasty investment company.

OK, rant over! There's more detail about all this stuff in the summary documents from my research (Campaign Strategy Ideas, Brief History of SRI, and EI Campaigning Research Summary). Just remember that EI campaigning takes a lot of time and energy, so the first step is to make sure that the things you're demanding will actually do something useful...

Hope this helps!


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