- Since October 2005, campaigners in Cambridge have been building a single-issue ethical investment campaign against college arms investments.
- Campaign activities have included a university-wide petition (currently at over 1,000 signatures), fundraising nights, awareness-raising events such as stunts, debates and stalls, and a demonstration planned for February 2006.
- Although we have been very successful in making ethical investment an issue of major student concern, this has yet to translate into concrete progress or policy changes, partly due to the difficulties of working within a collegiate university.
- As a result we have had a recent rethink of campaign strategy, and after the demonstration we plan to focus on three colleges in which we will target college councils (the main decision-making bodies) with papers proposing the establishment of SRI committees and the due consideration of an ethical investment policy excluding arms companies.
The Cambridge ethical investment campaign is currently a single-issue one focusing on arms investments. At the core of the campaign is the group Cambridge Students Against the Arms Trade (CSAAT), set up in October 2005 in direct response to revelations from the national Campaign Against The Arms Trade that Cambridge colleges held significant shares in major arms companies. Thus, although an anti-arms trade group, CSAAT’s primary identity is EI-oriented.
Cambridge colleges control their own investments, which are independent and separate from the University as an institution. The university does have its own fund (which we are investigating ways to target), but this is smaller than the sum total of college endowments. Within colleges there is generally an Investment Committee which manages investment policy and practice; the Senior Bursar will usually sit on this committee, and like other college committees it is subject to the decisions of the College Council and Governing Body. There is a university-wide ‘Bursars’ Committee’, but jurisdiction over college investment policy remains strictly a matter for individual colleges.
Campaign aims Edit
Our campaign aims at both college and university level are:
- 1. The establishment of socially responsible investment committees, to include student, fellow and potentially alumni representation, to monitor the situation and investigate options for investing ethically.
- 2. A commitment to engage in dialogue with students regarding changes to or institution of college ethical investment policies.
- 3. A meaningful ethical investment policy excluding arms companies.
These demands are designed to be implemented as a three-stage process, with the ultimate goal being to secure a policy of exclusion as outlined in 3), within a structure which will ensure an ongoing commitment to ethical investment and student involvement, as outlined in 1) and 2).
Campaign history and progress Edit
This is a brief timeline-style summary of the steps we have gone through so far in trying to build up the campaign.
- Winter 2005: concerned students and Cambridge residents held a public meeting aimed at setting up a group to campaign against arms investments. A group member stood successfully for the students’ union post of Ethical Investment Officer. In this capacity, Freedom of Information requests were then sent to the bursars of all Cambridge colleges regarding their ethical investment policies and direct shareholdings in all publicly limited companies. The positive response to this from most colleges has been invaluable in providing figures not just on arms investments, but on various companies of interest to other student campaigners, including oil companies and those dealing with the Sudanese government.
- Spring 2006: a university-wide petition was launched and a week of stalls held at lecture sites, handing out flyers and publicising the petition. The uptake was reasonable, sometimes disappointing, but more important than this was the visibility of stalls with banners in student thoroughfares, which was an important step in getting us recognised as a major student movement. Another public meeting was held, with a speaker from national CAAT, in an effort to get more people on board and kickstart college campaigns. Students in some colleges wrote to their bursars and managed to get meetings to discuss college investments with them; however, overall progress in individual colleges was disappointing. The group organised a student debate at the Cambridge Union Society on the motion ‘This house believes that ethics has no place in college investments’. The motion overwhelmingly fell, indicating strong support already for the principle of ethical investment.
- Summer 2006: the group held a successful fundraising music and comedy night along the theme ‘Drop Beats Not Bombs’, and successfully passed a motion at an open meeting of the students’ union committing it to official support of the ethical investment campaign. We also started planning for a university-wide demonstration to act as a focal point for student mobilization.
- Winter 2006: the group held a stall at the freshers’ fair which was a massive boost to petition signatures. The petition was also put online (http://www.srcf.ucam.org/csaat/petition.php). A letter writing surgery was held for people to lobby their college bursars for changes to investment policies. A stunt was organized at a Rolls-Royce careers event highlighting colleges’ links with unethical arms companies, using cardboard fighter jets painted with the names of dodgy regimes whose military was supplied by Rolls-Royce engines. We sent out press releases about the stunt, which was covered in both major student newspapers. A further motion was passed at CUSU council to commit the students’ union to concrete financial and practical support for the demonstration. We started working closely with the President of the students’ union on organizing this. The university were very resistant to our requests to rally on Senate House Lawn, essentially the only central university space on which we could demonstrate. Towards the end of term we launched a new petition protesting against their unreasonable refusal on free-speech grounds, notifying student and local press who both covered the story. Within a week the petition had gathered 400 signatures. With help from the CUSU President we managed to get a meeting with the Registrary and ultimately a U-turn from the university giving us permission to use the lawn. We felt this was a really important battle to fight, not just for the success of the demo but because it has compelled the university to take us seriously after they had tried to dismiss us.
Campaign strategy Edit
After a slightly erratic start the group is now trying to pursue a more coherent approach to its EI campaigning. This is basically two-pronged:
- 1. Building a student movement. Actions at a university-wide level which raise awareness of ethical investment issues and facilitate student mobilization to bring them to the attention of authorities and the wider public. Eg: university-wide petition, demonstration, stunts, etc.
- 2. Targetting college authorities. Actions within colleges aimed at changing investment policies by working directly with decision making bodies. Initially this involved writing to bursars, but campaign strategy has subsequently been rethought and we are now looking to focus on presenting papers to college councils, the bodies which generally make the decisions by which investment committees and bursars are bound (though bursars usually sit on these councils).
Reflections on past and future progress Edit
One encouraging thing brought to light by the Senate House Lawn petition was that most students now seem to know who we are and why we exist. This is a major improvement on the original response to our petition in Spring 2006. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of the student population seems sympathetic to our cause. Thus, although nothing concrete has been achieved in the past year, we feel we’ve done the necessary groundwork in building student awareness and mobilization around the issue of ethical investment. We now need to capitalize on this momentum by pressuring individual colleges to change their practices.