In this guest post, David Bloomfield from the Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC) provides an update on the campaign against Glasgow University investments in the arms trade. Unfortunately a similar story can be told about universities across the UK. We recommend reading this post as background.
At the end of June, the University of Glasgow decided to retain the bulk of its £3 million worth of investments in some of the world’s largest arms companies, including BAE Systems, Airbus and Boeing.
The decision to keep profiting from the arms trade was made despite a fierce campaign by the student group Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC) and concerned members of the community. As has been pointed out again and again, weapons produced by the huge arms companies that the University has chosen to invest in have been linked to serious war crimes across the world. The University has publicly proclaimed that ‘#BlackLivesMatter’, but it has refused to accept that the bombs it profits from have been used to kill people around the world.
The choice to keep these investments stand in complete contradiction to the University’s own public commitment to follow a Socially Responsible Investment policy. When adopting this policy, the University made very specific promises to students and the public about any future investments.
For example, the University has committed to divesting from the oil & gas sectors. It instructed its fund managers not to invest in the tobacco industry ‘because of the harm smoking causes’. If the University thinks smoking is harmful, maybe it should ask BAE what their fighter jets are doing to children in Yemen? They should enjoy good links – after all, a portion of BAE’s £15bn profits from the UK-backed Saudi bombing campaigns has been flowing into the University’s coffers, while BAE sponsors research at the University. So far, the University has been happy to take the money, while avoiding the murky reality.
The University has argued that the campaign has not been ‘looking at a balanced position’ when it comes to the situation, arguing that ‘when balanced against other activities of the companies’, it is correct to continue its investments. After all, they claim, it’s ‘not a good time to restrict’ the scope of their investment fund and that its investments are ‘in line with the core values’ set out in the SRI.
This is hypocritical nonsense. There are thousands of ethical companies to invest in. Instead, by investing in companies like Leonardo, BAE and Lockheed Martin, the University is deliberately ignoring its commitment to its ‘core values’. The University had a simple choice – to divest from companies that profit from killing or to continue making money in this shameful, grotesque fashion. They have ignored a ‘balanced position’ and chosen to support more war crimes.
In place of substantive action, the University has assured us that it will write to the arms companies involved, to ask if their activities are ‘fully compatible with their publicly stated values’. A letter from the University is likely to scare a student – but it is unlikely to work on the CEO of an arms company.
Despite the University’s thin reasoning, the reality is that there is no way to make ethical investments in the arms trade. While the University promises to write sternly worded letters and ask the government to double-check where weapons are likely to do their killing, a genuinely ethical response would involve immediate divestment. The University knows this – yet it has chosen cheap gestures and profits over the lives of innocent people.
Unfortunately, the University of Glasgow is not the only major UK university that holds significant investments in the arms trade. Many other universities, including many of the influential Russell Group, still profit from the arms trade and have their research shaped by these same companies.
Regardless of the University’s position, we will be continuing our campaign to make sure that full divestment occurs. While the University of Glasgow has shown itself to be incapable of genuine solidarity with victims of violence around the world, we believe that they will ultimately have to respond to the sheer pressure of public opinion. With the support of the people of Glasgow and with organisations like CAAT, we hope that there will be a day when all universities in the UK are fully divested from the arms trade.