Latest setback in long-running fight for ethical campaigners

Since an investigation by Nouse in 2005 revealed the University of York held direct shares in arms and weaponry company BAE Systems, the University has been under continual pressure from students and independent pressure groups to adopt a more ethical investment policy.

At present, drafting of such a policy is in development, and is expected to be presented to University Council “in the New Year,” according to the University Press Department.

Information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in 2005 first made students at York aware of the university’s morally dubious investments. Following the revelations, the York People and Planet group hit out at the university in what would become a long standing battle. Ric Lander, People and Planet Chair in 2006, dubbed the university’s investment policy as “a complete misnomer,” and claimed the lack of action to divest showed “a complete lack of interest and understanding of the issue.”

Later the same year, members of York Amnesty International and FreeSoc dressed in white boiler suits and occupied the lobby of Heslington Hall in protest against the presence of representatives from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), who were giving a presentation to University officials. The student activists aimed to disrupt the presentation, as the company is known to produce a range of aerial, naval and land-based weaponry. The protest led to the creation of a University working group of students and staff to work towards an ethical investment policy.

However, 2006 also saw the department of Computer Science at York awarded a controversial research grant by the British and American militaries worth up to $2.6 million. The move sparked outrage amongst students: “The duplicity of the university’s position is shocking,” commented York student Elinor Rooks, who was involved in the student-lead pressure campaign. “With the right hand it forms an ethical investment working group; while with the left hand it substantially increases ties with the arms industry and the UK and US militaries.”

In May 2007 Nouse uncovered evidence that the University was holding indirect shares in Petrochina, a major Chinese oil firm which is thought to have links to the Sudanese government. A number of institutions, including Harvard University, had already sold their shares due to ethical doubts. People and Planet condemned the move, claiming that “the average student would be shocked to discover our tuition fees are indirectly funding genocide.” Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York also spoke out on the university’s involvement with BAE and Petrochina, expressing concerns that such associations might negatively influence the research conducted at York.

“YUSU already has a policy calling for the university to adopt an ethical investment policy and relinquish its investments in the arms trade. In light of recent developments we hope to be renewing this at the next Union General Meeting. Please vote in week eight” said YUSU Environmental and Ethics Officers John Nicholls and Joe Thwaites.

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