Summary of Edinburgh campaign so far and where now....
Edinburgh P&P first began investigating the world of ethical investment back in 2002. A motions brought by P&P in February of that year was passed overwhelmingly at our Students' Association Annual General Meeting, calling for for the Uni to be transparent about its investments and for it to invest responsibly by avoiding companies that flouted environmental or humanitarian standards. Our first major success following the General Meeting was in November 2002, when the University, in response to student pressure, took the unprecedented move of releasing its previously confidential investment portfolio for public consumption. They now do this every year, see here. At the time, this displayed some of the world’s worst corporations, including environmental polluters and tobacco manufacturers.
People and Planet then began a mass lobby of MPs and MSPs, gaining a massive response, including piles of supportive letters and parliamentary motions introduced in the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, signed by an incredible 88MPs and 49 MSPs. On top of this we commissioned a report to be written by a local professional financial adviser form the Ethical Investment Co-operative to convince the University of the financial merits of our cause, and compiled this with the results of our lobbying and letters from lecturers and local figures in a document that was presented, alongside 1200 signed postcards of support from students, to the University authorities.
By summer 2003, the University accepted the principles of the case we presented, drawing up an official policy on Socially Responsible Investment (see ). They rejected our call for blanket bans on undesirable industries (arms, oil extraction etc) on the grounds that it would be too hard to define and that there existed a range of goodies and baddies in all industries. We argued that it was hard to be a socially responsible weapons manufacturer but in the end we settled for a company specific approach.
The policy set out a formal structure by which any group within the University can present a case to the various responsible committees, who in turn could decide to ask the fund managers to either report on their engagement with the company or in extreme cases order disinvestment. This structure has only been used twice so far since 2003. The University rejected our proposal for a regular committee to oversee investments, arguing that this could be done through existing structures.
The first case was brought by staff in the medical college who thought it was inappropriate to fund the tobacco industry while also accepting money from Cancer Research towards studying lung cancer. The case was successful and the Uni soon sold its large holdings in a number of tobacco firms.
The second was brought by the Students' Association (with P&P support) and called for disinvestment from Nestle. The case was accepted by the Uni, but it then turned out that the fund managers had recently sold the shares anyway. There is now a negative screen on Nestle shares (ie. they can't come back).
The Uni does not currently have shares in the arms industry and so there is little at the moment that can be done on that front, at least regarding the endowment.
Issues, Problems, The Future:
While the campaign was pretty groundbreaking at the time, it now seems that there is more work to do.
Firstly, very few people in the University are aware of the policy and how they can use it.
Secondly, there is no general negative screening of holdings. For instance, while there are currently no arms companies, there is nothing to stop them being bought if they suddenly became attractive investments. In this case, it would be up to students or staff to bring it to the attention of the Uni. As the investments are only published six-monthly (and normally quite late - the end of July and the end of January) this means that it is hard for there to be any ongoing scrutiny (which is why we proposed a committee in the first place). Like all Unis, ours is subject to the Freedom of Information Act but again this requires a great deal of proactive work on the part of normal students or staff.
Thirdly, there is a lot than can be done regarding money and funding that isn't part of the endowment. For instance, a large amount of of funding for departments and research projects comes from undesirable companies/organisations. BAE Systems has some involvement with our Informatics departments and has possibly even funded a huge new building projects. The US Defence Department has previously employed the Informatic Dept to plan military campaigns for them! There is a very high level indeed of involvement of the oil and gas corporations on our Science campus, with many course acting as little more than funnels straight into these industries. These are just some examples of where focus could shift.
As of January 2013 a new campaign is underway: see investethically.wordpress.com for more info and contact details