Saturday, 20 December 2008

A Farewell To Arms?

Here is the latest article on Disarm UCL in the Cheesegrater:

UCL is due to launch its ethical investment policy in January but the Provost shouldn’t be patting himself on the back just yet

THE LAST WEEK of November was Ethical Investment Week at UCL. In a panel
debate, Sir Stephen Wall, Chair of UCL Council, spoke on the progress of ethical investment at
UCL. For Disarm UCL it was another success in their long-running campaign to persuade College to divest its shares in arms companies and adopt a holistic ethical investment policy.

However, the debate also revealed College’s ambiguous stance to the future for ethical investment at UCL. Concerns were raised that College’s new investment policy, due to be launched in January 2009, would only be a weak nod in the direction of ethical investment.

No blanket ban

Plans are for the assessment of investments on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket ban
on investments in arms companies. Although it seems likely that such a policy would mean
UCL divests its notorious shares in Cobham plc (see Cheese Grater issue 12), there would be nothing to stop similar investments being made in the future.

In March Provost Malcolm Grant admitted that it was necessary to extend UCL’s current
guidelines on socially responsible investment which so far only explicitly bans investment
in tobacco companies. The Provost proposed that UCL adopt the ‘Oxford model’ by setting
up a separate ‘Ethical Investment Review Committee’ to take responsibility for the issue.

According to minutes from College Council the parameters for investment set by this committee
might be either ‘negative’ (advising the avoidance of investments in particular areas) or ‘positive’ (advising the active seeking of opportunities to invest in areas seen as concordant with UCL’s mission).

No say for students

There has still been no formal consultation with students, surprising considering the vocal
nature of the student-led Disarm UCL campaign. After pressure from campaigners to investigate the possibilities of ethical investment, a report was produced last year by UCL alumnus Mr Edwin Glasgow QC and Sir Stephen Wall, advising the Provost on UCL’s future investment policy. However this report has been labelled confidential and remains
unavailable to students. Disarm UCL are sceptical about the effectivness of the ‘Ethical Investment Review Committee’.

The committee consists of two lay members, two academic staff and one student.
Disarm UCL and Amnesty International are pressing for equal student representation
which seems appropriate since the committee was established in response to long-term pressure from students. The activities of the EIRC are strangely secretive and it is unclear whether they
have met at all since being established early this year. The committee certainly did not report
to College Council in June, as it was mandated to do in March. Even if the committee does exist,
there is currently no student representation at all as the Sabbs confirmed that they hadn’t decided who would be appropriate, although the job it is likely to fall under the remit of the Environment and Ethics Officer. Education officer Ed Steward has said it would unlikely that the EIRC would be an open committee and according to its terms of
reference it is only mandated to meet twice a year.

Bureaucracy the enemy of action, eh?

Disarm UCL have repeatedly pointed to evidence that suggests ethical investment is not
only equally but more profitable than investments without ethical criteria. UCL has admitted that there may even be a financial penalty for continuing investment in companies that alienate
staff and students. According to a recent report by the UN and Mercer, ethical investment does
not bring a performance penalty and as well as offering companies a moral high ground they
also bring in profitable returns. While college continues to sit on the fence, shares in Cobham plc have been continuously pumping cash into the development of weapons and defence
systems. Rather than seizing the chance to be a true ‘global leader’, by delaying the decision UCL is now lagging far behind divestment at Oxford and Cambridge, whose arms shares the Provost once used to justify UCL’s. The change of policy in January could alter this if College not only divests its arms shares but adopts a holistic ethical investment policy that actively seeks out companies in accordance with UCL ‘global mission’.

Contributors: Christina Ravinet, Jenni Hulse, Sam Steddy, Gareth Spencer, Alex Ashman, Mark Hoffman, Ka Bradley, Toby Youell,
George Starling, George Potts,Thomas Rhoades, Adam Gillet, Katherine Harrison. Special Thanks to Josh Worth