Divestment campaigners protest Heslington Hall

Students have protested Heslington Hall over the University’s investments in the arms trade

Heslington Hall was disrupted by protesters with drums and banners presenting a petition against investment in the BAE arms trade this afternoon.

The students started in Vanbrugh Paradise chanting “Disarm York, bin the bomb, hear our song” and continued around campus before culminating in front of Heslington Hall, the University’s administration centre, and home to all senior staff.

Freddy Vanson, Campaign Officer for Amnesty International, and one of the most vocal protesters, explained that they “believe in peace, participation and pacifism…we want the University to invest in education and welfare, not death and destruction.”

John Nicholls, YUSU Environment and Ethics Officer, protest organiser Theresa Herrmann and Vanson were allowed into the building to hand over the petition. Although security officers and the police were watching from a distance, they were able to meet with David Duncan, the Registrar and Secretary, and Graham Gilbert, the Director of Finance, who were extremely cooperative. They discussed the future of the University’s investment policy as well as specific concerns over investment into arms trade companies.

John Nicholls said, of the meeting, that “David Duncan confirmed that a policy on ethical investment is being taken to University Council for approval next Friday 6th March. He also confirmed that the specific students concerns regarding investment in BAE Systems will be highlighted to the Council, as well as the details of the demonstration itself and the petition signed by close to 2,000 students.”

Vanson commented “The meeting was a success and they seemed genuinely concerned with this issue. We hope to keep up the pressure so that this policy does get adopted and carried out for the coming months and years.”

As reported by Nouse in November, over the past two years the University has increased its shares in BAE, the UK’s largest defence company, to the amount of almost £1,000,000. York is currently the sixth-largest University investor in the arms trade. Students have shown their concern in this issue since 2005.

Graham Martin, an organiser for the Disarm Campaign, explained that the university has been “sitting on this for too long” and that it is time they made a decision.

Although this is seen as a positive step in reducing the investment in BAE, the protesters still face the issue of the University of York Pension Fund being controlled by the pension fund trustees. This body is separate from the university administration and it remains to be seen how much they will be concerned about students’ views.

 

Credits for YSTV: Anna Bucks and Simon Jones

43 comments

  1. 27 Feb ’09 at 5:40 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    “Heslington Hall was disrupted by approximately 50 protestors with drums and banners presenting a petition against investment in the BAE arms trade this afternoon.”

    I am sorry but this estimate is simply wrong.

    A quick headcount shortly after 12 found 120 of us there, and by the time we reached Heslington Hall we were at least 150.

    Reply

  2. more than 50 wasn’t it??

    Reply

  3. Apologies for the typo, this has now been corrected.

    Reply

  4. There were about 180 people when we were going past Goodricke and we picked up a few other people. Counting is fun.

    Reply

  5. Oh, another thing. Total investment is OVER one million pounds. Just to clarify.

    Reply

  6. Assuming that the data was updated most recently on 1st October (though I think it was July data), the £713,803 of BAE and the £283, 539 of Rolls Royce now stands at approximately £760,000 and £250,000 as a result of several months of increase for BAE and several months of decrease for Rolls Royce. That totals £1,010,000 though I’m off by up to £4,000 depending on accuracy of data. If the data was updated in July, the value is greater than that. Kthnxbai

    Reply

  7. Correction: the data was taken in March 08. Therefore the £713,803 is now £542,110.4 and the £283,539 is now 190,000.3 totalling £732,111 so in fact the university has lost a total of (997342-732111) £265,231 over the last year by investing in these companies.

    Oh, David Duncan, the Registrar, made this comment on BBC Radio York yesterday – in response to the question “do York University have almost a million pounds invested in BAE?”: “I’m not sure that they do. York University, as you know, is one of the top universities in the country. We compete head-to-head with universities such as Oxford and Cambridge but unlike those ancient institutions we don’t have huge endowments. I think at the moment we invest between 3 and 4 million mainly through a fund manager called M&G.”

    David, David, David. The University has over £300 million invested and we know the exact figure for how much the University has invested in BAE. It is NOT invested through M&G, who you later point out is “one of the backers of the fund run by the ethical investment cooperative which offers ethical advise to supporters of amnesty international which I believe are involved in the campaign today” as the pension funds aren’t. It is in fact invested directly by the university.

    So, in reality, you’re not telling the truth about investment. You’re investing in arms companies and worse you’re losing the money from the pension fund. Congratulations, I think, should go to our new Registrar who has only been here since January and has already proved that he doesn’t know anything at all about the University. WELL DONE DAVID.

    Reply

  8. Glad to see there weren’t as many protesters as anticipated which hopefully means the pension fund trustee board will take little to no notice of a bunch of students who know bugger all about investment.

    It simply isn’t our business. ‘cos it’s not our money.

    And the description from CAAT of Rolls Royce as an arms company is, to put it simply, complete crap. They don’t make weapons, how can they be an arms company?!
    They make luxury cars and engines for road vehicles and aircraft. No bombs, no guns, no rocket launchers, no mines, no torpedoes, no nukes…Thoroughly misleading hyperbolic nonsense from people who want to kick up a fuss for the sake of being loud.

    Finally, are there any details on what would be considered ‘ethical investment’ if the university were to adopt a policy? Presumably banks are out, oil, electric and gas companies are out, car/plane/bus/lorry companies are out, most clothes brands are out, supermarkets are out, anyone with israeli/american connections is out…

    I doubt there’s that much money to be made from investing in fairtrade tea bags and carbon offsetting. It’d be interesting to see who gets to be the judge on what is ‘ethical’ if such a policy were to go ahead. Any answers would be welcome.

    A. Democrat.

    Reply

  9. 28 Feb ’09 at 3:01 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    25% of the world’s military aircrafts contain engines made by Rolls Royce. Let us not even start on BAE.

    “Finally, are there any details on what would be considered ‘ethical investment’ ”

    Yes, in the draft that will be discussed ‘unethical investment’ means investing in companies that have to do with the arms trade, child labour or support oppressive regimes. Anything other than that will be perfectly permissible.

    Currently, the only ‘unethical’ companies that we invest in are BAE and Rolls Royce. Less than a million is invested in those two companies which, compared to the university’s total investments, is a very very small sum. The university could easily spread it out to its current porftolio without even having an impact. The financial argument simply does not stand.

    This motion has nothing to do with investing in ‘Fair trade tea bags’, or anything else for that matter. Primarily, it is an ethical issue. It has everything to do with whether we want to support and finance two companies that have been arming some of the most brutal regimes on the face of the earth.

    Reply

  10. Obviously A. Democrat doesn’t know anything specific about this issue. The ethical investment policy is drafted and specifically states what is and isn’t an ethical company. Not to mention that, as I’ve stated categorically throughout this campaign, arms companies are POOR INVESTMENTS.

    BAE and Rolls Royce have dropped in the last year, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are at a 3 year low and Boeing is down to its worst in 6 years. They are POOR INVESTMENTS. Why the university still has its pension fund invested in these companies is beyond me.

    HMV is higher than this time last year. Mothercare is about the same. NEXT is similar to where it was a year ago. Cineworld is about the same as well, Dominoes pizza is where it was last March… even Games Workshop went up.

    Reply

    • In your reply regarding ethical investments, you mention Domino’s (or as you put it, Dominoes Pizza), and NEXT. I don’t see how you can see these firms as ethical (Domino’s have strong ties to right-wing conservative groups in the USA who want to ban abortion and contraception, wheras NEXT make huge profits by offering credit accounts to those who cannot afford to pay back the full loan amount without incurring interest first.

      I find it disgusting that you people seem to have such disdain for two of the very small group of really successful, modern, British companies. BAE systems are aerospace engineers. They don’t JUST make components military aircraft (and infact you could make the equally ill-founded claim that BAE help to save lives and put people in work through their huge investment in search and rescue helicopter systems. Rolls-Royce dont JUST make engines for military aircraft- again, they invest hugely in rescue and civilian aircraft. The fact is that these two companies are fantastic for British workers, the British economy and British science.

      One last thing- please dont call me a tory because i’m not one! But sometimes uni students get a bit bored because the world is perfectly fine- they feel the need to go and protest about something. I think you are all just jealous of the lucky students who could go around moaning about maggie! (I know I am)

      Reply

      • The ethical investment policy will prohibit investment in companies that are unethical in specific ways. This includes BAE for a variety of reasons, including supporting genocide, selling to dictators, providing illegal weapons and in the selling torture implements – many of these are not happening now but used to happen.

        The point is that BAE do that sort of thing. Rolls Royce also fit this category – NEXT etc. may well be unethical for other reasons but my point is that they are not banned by this policy. Not sure that NEXT point is as horrendous though since I’m fairly sure that a rather large amount of companies do it.

        The two companies are not fantastic for jobs, economy or science. That’s just not true.

        And yes, I have several gripes with a variety of Thatcher’s policies and would protested at the time. I think that several of her policies, specifically those at the beginning of her term of office, were very sensible but that a few policies were essentially, in the words of Tom Scott, “social bribery” regarding privatisation of some of the companies, selling off council houses etc. There was an element of bad-for-the-economy-and-the-country-in-the-long-run-but-popular-now in it. I’m not, however, jealous.

        Once we have our own affairs in order, and frankly the government isn’t doing that badly at the moment – compared with previous governments, and other current governments – then we should go after the bigger fish. However, at present, we (as in the general student populace) feel that the tuition fee system doesn’t work, that charities investing money in BAE is wrong and that we should have a library that is open when we want to use it, along with a ton of other things.

        If you want to campaign against the university for a stronger ethical investment policy, that excludes companies like Nestlé, NEXT, anything that isn’t fairtrade, rainforest alliance etc., all products with links to any undemocratic state etc… then by all means, submit it to the UGM and try to get support for it. Likewise if you want to argue against ethical investment and put through a UGM, give it a shot. That’s called democracy and I’m all in favour of it!!

        Reply

        • 5 Mar ’09 at 3:09 pm

          A. Catsambas

          To be honest, I think that the notion of democracy has been instilled in us via propaganda more than any other idea, ever.
          What is democracy? The rule of the people. This assumes a well-educated, informed population. Do we have this at the moment? NO! If we did, news papers such as the Sun and the Mirror would not be in circulation. The BNP would not exist. Shows like Big Brother would not be watched by anyone.
          Yet, Big Brother is one of the most viewed shows (or used to be), the Mirror and the Sun are read by millions, and the BNP’s support is growing. Do you want to be ruled by such people?
          I don’t. Democracy stems from the regime in ancient Athens. However, that regime was only successful because a “citizen” was only a person whose parents had been born in Athens and owned land. These citizens did not work; work was left for slaves, or people of lower rank. In this way, they were able to follow all current events, and have educated opinions on public matters. In no means am I supporting slavery. I am just saying that democracy cannot work without an educated population, and as we lack that, democracy is not viable.
          A.

          Reply

  11. I am proud of the fact my university invests in great British industry, like BAE systems who make some of the most advanced military hardware in the world.

    Long may it continue.

    Reply

  12. 28 Feb ’09 at 6:14 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    Are you proud of the fact that this military hardware has also been sold to Robert Mugabe, Abdul Aziz al Saud, General Suharto etc. etc.?

    Reply

  13. http://www.larouchepub.com/eiw/public/2007/2007_20-29/2007_20-29/2007-26/pdf/40-41_726.pdf

    I am proud of the fact my university invests in great British industry, like BAE systems who are involved in corruption scandals with some of the world’s worst dictators.

    http://www.news24.com/News24/World/News/0,,2-10-1462_2477937,00.html

    I am proud of the fact that my university invests in great British industry, like Rolls Royce who provide the engines on aeroplanes sold to the Israeli government and used on a state who don’t exactly have anti-air defences.

    http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9805/16/indonesia.update/index.html

    I am proud of the fact that my university supports the killings of hundreds in countries that are blatantly inferior to our own.

    http://www.topnews.in/election-death-toll-zimbabwe-now-85-say-doctors-248840

    I am proud of the fact that my university helped Robert Mugabe kill his political opponents and am positively jubilant that I am responsible for the deaths of those fighting for democracy worldwide.

    / fascist sarcasm

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  14. George’s post raises an interesting issue – would campaigners still hate BAE if they only supplied hardware to British forces?

    It seems very unethical to sponsor Mugabe’s weapons, or al Saud’s weapons, yet at the same time it seems ethical to support a company which provides our troops with protection in the fight against the Taleban.

    Help for Heroes is well-supported here and rightly so. Yet many rehabilitation programmes that H4H provide are a consequence of severe injuries suffered by soldiers who were not adequately protected, largely through the use of ‘Snatch’ Land Rovers instead of proper armoured vehicles, and other cost-cutting measures.

    If a military hardware company’s products are being used to shield troops in Afghanistan from lethal attacks, why is this unethical?

    I accept the need for weapons in todays world. I accept the need for military aircraft and a strong army. Pacificm is a blind philosophy that does not take into account circumstances and conditions. Even the most principled pacifists rethink in times of humanitarian crisis. Google Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

    Anger should really be aimed at the government for setting up deals with corrupt regimes. Al-Yamamah went through HM Government, as did the weapons deals with Zimbabwe and Iraq many years ago. The weapons themselves are a sad necessity in today’s violent world – selling them to the wrong people isn’t a necessity.

    Don’t target the manufacturers, target the government. Specifically the Labour and Tory parties for their complicit behaviour in nestling up to dictators and war criminals.

    But it just makes no sense for our union to support the very good work of Help for Heroes, then criticise the very people who’s products could have saved many more lives of servicemen and servicewomen had the government invested more money.

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  15. I’m afraid that arms-companies sales to governments around the world must reflect:

    1) The sovereign government’s policy on arms-sales, not that dictated to them by marginal pressure-groups of a siminalr ilk

    2) The national economic interest that is at stake. Arms companies employ many British workers and If not selling arms to particular regimes infringes on this, then the loss of jobs is not a price worth paying.

    3) The national securty interest. For example, it was sensible to sell arms to Saddam in the 1980′s in order to entrench its homogeneity in the region against Iran, but perhaps not so to sell them to President Suharto of Indonesia when the issue of East Timor was paramount.

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  16. “If not selling arms to particular regimes infringes on this, then the loss of jobs is not a price worth paying”

    Except that the loss of jobs is countered by the lack of killing democrats in Zimbabwe, as one of the examples I gave above. And your point on #3 shows the issue itself – how would giving violent dictators weapons help the security? Likewise how would enabling air strikes in Gaza benefit the peace process there?

    And as for A Democrat; I would say that providing the British defence companies with weaponry is not the job of a charitable-status university but rather the government and is not the issue under scrutiny in this discussion. Whether arms companies should exist, whether trident is benefical to our country, whether nuclear submarines should be bought etc. are completely different arguments and many people will feel differently about each one.

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  17. 1 Mar ’09 at 4:29 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    “George’s post raises an interesting issue – would campaigners still hate BAE if they only supplied hardware to British forces?”

    Personally, I would not.

    The issue here is the ARMS TRADE, and the fact that BAE arms some of the worst offenders of human rights on earth. This issue is not black and white; we are not saying that BAE is evil incarnate and we do realise we do not live in a yellow submarine. However, we also do realise that supporting and arming some of the world’s most oppressive regimes is never ethically justifiable, especially when it is solely based on the grounds of flimsy financial profits.

    If BAE’s weapons were made only for defense purposes, i.e. if they were hardly meant to be used and were kept only within the UK to preempt attacks against it, then personally I would consider BAE to be a perfectly legitimate investment. In fact, it would fall within the ‘ethical investment’ criteria as set out in the proposed policy (any company that is not taking part in the arms trade, not based on child labour and not supporting oppressive regimes).

    Sadly, that is not the case. What really troubles me is the knowledge that General Suharto used the weapons that BAE supplied him in the occupation of East Timor, which according to the UN cost the lives of more than a 100,000 innocent civilians. What also troubles me is the fact that 236 aircrafts have been sold to the Israeli Defense Forces by BAE, which have almost definitely been used to claim the lives of Palestinian civilians, perhaps even in the latest assault on Gaza. The list goes on, from Robert Mugabe and King Abdullah to Augusto Pinochet and so on.

    Let us also keep in mind that this is not a debate as to whether BAE must exist or not, but as to whether we, as a university, approve or disapprove the way it currently operates. Personally, I do not wish my university to be supporting and financing what I described, and the majority of students seem to agree.

    Reply

  18. 1 Mar ’09 at 4:35 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    (btw, the ‘flimsy financial profits’ bit referred to what we get from our minuscule investments in BAE, not the tens of billions that BAE makes through its arms deals)

    Reply

  19. 1 Mar ’09 at 4:52 pm

    Joe Thwaites

    Arms exports as a percentage of total UK exports: 1.5%

    British jobs directly and indirectly dependant on UK arms exports: 65,000, 0.2% of total UK workforce

    Annual government subsidies to arms industry: £850million (over £13,000 per employee)

    Getting the Spectator to agree: priceless!

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/business/104601/part_2/does-britain-still-need-an-arms-industry.thtml

    Furthermore, a 2001 report found that halving military exports over a two-year period would lead to the loss of almost 49,000 jobs, but that 67,400 jobs would be created in non-military sectors over the following five years. The report concluded that “the economic costs of reducing defence exports are relatively small and largely one-off.”

    Which winging marginal pressure group wrote such nonsense? Only economists from the MoD and the University of York:
    http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/econ/documents/research/defence_exports_nov01.pdf

    Some final wise words from the Spectator article:

    ‘There might be a case for maintaining a modest, specialised arms industry to support our own army. But anyone who thinks an export-driven defence industry is important to the economy should stop kidding themselves. It is the last relic of the discredited ‘national champions’ school of economics — which still has its supporters on the other side of the Channel, but which the British rightly gave up on long ago.’

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  20. 1 Mar ’09 at 6:17 pm

    A. Catsambas

    A. Democrat: Rolls Royce has been split into two different companies, one produces cars, the other engines, they are not the same corporation.
    However, it is still unacceptable that Rolls Royce is put in the same bag as BAE. Their products DO NOT cause death! They are engines. In your logic, George and Jason, we should also consider the company that produces the metal with which jets are covered, as unethical. And why stop there? Why not the glass used, why not the bolts, the wires…
    Also, this “draft”: where is it?! I have asked time and again to view it, only to earn the response, “oh, it’s free for everyone to view”. Will someone tell me where I can do so? And what companies do you label unethical? Only arms trade and child labour? How about over-charging drug companies? How about industries that indirectly harm the environment or other people? Is Nestle ethical? Yes, you’ll say. Yet, they use palm oil in their product, for the extraction of which, whole woodland areas are burnt down.
    Similarly for shampoo products, and many others, which you have not bothered investigating.
    Finally, to Jason: BAE and Rolls Royce are not poor investments. We are in the middle of a credit crisis, all companies’ share prices go down, even profitable ones. I remind you once again, that BAE did actually double its profits, and is very safe in the sense that it will never go bankrupt. Unfortunately, very few companies carry such a guarantee. Even huge corporations, such as GM, Ford or Citigroup, are in danger. This does not make them ethical, but still, it is a blatant lie, or gross mistake, to claim that these companies are not profitable.
    A.

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  21. 1 Mar ’09 at 7:21 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    25% of the world’s military aircrafts contain engines made by Rolls Royce. Unlike glass or metal, engines for military aircraft are made and used only to make these killing machines work.

    John brought the draft with him on the debate, you could have asked to read it. We only have it in paper form, that’s what the university gave to us. If you care so much to read it, I suggest you do the same; go to Heslington Hall and I am pretty sure they will give you a copy. Keep in mind it’s still a draft, that’s why the university has not published it yet.

    “How about over-charging drug companies? How about industries that indirectly harm the environment or other people? … Similarly for shampoo products, and many others, which you have not bothered investigating.”

    I think everyone is very much aware of the fact that there are actually other companies out there who are by no means ‘ethical’ in the standard sense. However, as you’ve said yourself, the harm they cause is indirect and is dependent on the actual company’s management and practices. The harm caused by child labour and the arms trade is direct and it does not depend on the company – this practice is always harmful no matter what company does it. There can be no ‘ethical’ company exploiting 5 year old children, making money out of killing or supporting brutal dictators.

    “Is Nestle ethical? Yes, you’ll say.”

    No I won’t, but I’ve already explained why this is beyond the scope of whether the university should invest in industries that are INHERENTLY harmful.

    “I remind you once again, that BAE did actually double its profits, and is very safe in the sense that it will never go bankrupt.”

    As you know, BAE doubled its profits after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. In other words, it doubled its profits because at least 300,000 died from the kind of products it supplied. First of all, there’s the answer on whether those companies cause direct harm and whether the kind of profits they yield is nothing more than blood money. Secondly, those wars will be ending, so what exactly guarantees us that the supply and demand law will not apply in this case, slashing BAE’s profits and its share’s value?

    “it is a blatant lie, or gross mistake, to claim that these companies are not profitable.”

    Indeed, and that’s why we never said that they haven’t been. What we said is that we invest less than a million in BAE and Rolls, that is, less than 1/300 of the university’s total investments, so the 1m figure pales into insignificance. What we are saying is that it is extremely easy to spread this very small sum to the university’s current porftolio without even having an impact.

    Even if we were talking about a sum large enough to have some relative importance, then this argument would still be invalid unless you could prove that there is NO other profitable company.

    To be honest, I think you are currently suffering from the Debating syndrome. After you debated on that side, you have started expressing views that are simply not yours.

    Reply

  22. 1 Mar ’09 at 7:48 pm

    A. Catsambas

    You are absolutely wrong – no debating syndrome. I am just not happy at all with how your campaign is being run. No need to get offensive.
    “that’s why we never said that they haven’t been”.
    Jason’s post: “arms companies are POOR INVESTMENTS”.
    BAE’s profits doubled this year, not because of the Afghan war. Plus, once more, BAE produces a diverse range of products, not just weapons. Their profits are unlikely to drop by much, and even if they do, BAE will NOT go bankrupt, thus it is a safe investment.
    Rolls Royce makes engines, not just for fighter aircrafts, but for any sort of aircraft. What about companies that produce cockpits for fighter jets? Should we also shun them?
    Whether Nestle is ethical or not is definetely within the scope of this debate, because earlier, you claimed that companies that are not involved in the arms trade or child labour are fine to invest in. What about companies that harm the environment? Point is, most companies are unethical in one way or another, and although at the moment your fight is with BAE, in a few years time, someone else will pick a new target. And the fact that the university only holds a small amount of shares in BAE means nothing – presumably, in order to hedge its risk, all of its investments are relatively small. This is not a reason to cancell all, or any, of them.
    A.

    Reply

  23. Aris, firstly I’d like to point out that I have already given a list of five or so normal companies that people have heard of that have been far better investments.

    Secondly, I’d like to correct you on “Is Nestle ethical? Yes, you’ll say.” – no I wouldn’t. Nestlé were responsible for the deaths of thousands if not hundreds of thousands or more by extremely unethical practise in Africa in the last 30 years. However, they didn’t knowingly sell weapons to dictators so they wouldn’t be excluded by the ethical investment policy.

    Reply

  24. 1 Mar ’09 at 8:58 pm

    Athene Dilke

    In reply to A. Catsambas’ last post:

    ‘Point is, most companies are unethical in one way or another, and although at the moment your fight is with BAE, in a few years time, someone else will pick a new target.’

    Surely this is the whole point: as a student body if we continue to bring to light the ethical dilemmas of investing in particular companies and putting pressure on the university to withdraw from said investments, eventually companies will get the message that we are not prepared to support their actions. I wholeheartedly hope that in a couple of years we will be ‘picking a new target’ and keep on fighting for a greater standard of ethical investment.

    Reply

  25. I couldn’t agree with Athene more.

    To point out the magnitude of the struggle is not to point to a flaw in our logic. Fear in this world is fuelled by weaponry. Both domestically and globally those who are subjugated are kept in their place by force. The battle for global hegemony and economic dominance is going to engulf the next generation, if not ours. No longer are The West in the clear blue waters of global dominance. At our current rates of consumption and with no real alternative energy source, the future looks bleak. The next major conflict poses a real danger. We live in a world of game theory where almost every state distrusts another so much they invest in arms so powerful they can obliterate it.

    The ease in which those in power can destroy the world is terrifying.

    Luckily for our generation the fear of the Cold War has died down. Instead it is terrorists who we fear, not states. However, this will not last and the idea that investing in arms makes us safer is fallacious. Rogue states will emerge and Iran will arm themselves with a nuclear bomb. The reason why such states arm themselves in this way is fear, America and Israel with their ‘shock and awe’ terror tactics only encourage other nations to sufficiently arm themselves. The arms races which we saw recur throughout the 20th century show us two things:

    Firstly, the greater your arms pile, the greater your enemy’s arms pile gets.

    Secondly, those who win the battle are the richer nations.

    Investing in arms does not make us safer. The idea that buying weaponry and making the best military equipment makes one safer has been disproved. High investment in arms by one nation causes an arms race to manifest. It terrifies me that the opposition do not see the lessons of history. Radical change is needed and though you may have good intentions, your ignorance and cynicism are destroying this world.

    Reply

  26. Athene,
    the problem is that students now claim that all companies, except the ones in the arms trade or ones that employ children, are to be considered ethical.
    However, if the university chooses a company that is considered ethical now, it may have to change in the near future, because someone will come up with a fault for that company too.
    The transaction costs for such investments are very large; plus, it is not easy to come up with a new policy each time a student has a problem. If students want to protest, they’d better come up with a very precise definition of what is to be considered ethical, so that the university can choose a policy that it will not have to revise in a few years time.
    A.

    Reply

  27. 2 Mar ’09 at 1:15 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    “the problem is that students now claim that all companies, except the ones in the arms trade or ones that employ children, are to be considered ethical.”

    Not only did we not claim this, in fact we categorically denied it in every message. I can only assume that you did not read the previous replies so allow me to repeat myself.

    I think everyone is very much aware of the fact that there are actually other companies out there who are by no means ‘ethical’ in the standard sense. However, as you’ve said yourself, the harm they cause is indirect and is dependent on the actual company’s management and practices.

    The harm caused by the arms trade and child labour is direct and it does not depend on the company – this practice is always harmful no matter what company does it. By definition, there can be no ‘ethical’ company exploiting 5 year old children, making money out of killing or supporting brutal dictators.

    That does not go to say that every other company is ethical, but this debate is simply beyond the scope of whether the university should invest in industries that are INHERENTLY harmful. In other words, it’d be plain unreasonable to exclude all baby milk companies because of Nestle. But ALL companies that take part in the arms trade contribute towards a more dangerous and violent world.

    It’s not a case-by-case analysis of every company that is being proposed here, it is whether the university should invest in those specific sectors of the economy. We think those sectors are inherently harmful and we do not believe we should finance them. If you disagree, feel free to explain. But the argument that we should do nothing because we would not automatically cure all the ills of the world is simply invalid.

    Reply

  28. 2 Mar ’09 at 1:16 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    “If students want to protest, they’d better come up with a very precise definition of what is to be considered ethical, so that the university can choose a policy that it will not have to revise in a few years time.”

    It’s the university itself that made this definition in the first place.

    Reply

  29. I’d like to reiterate another point.

    If, a year ago, the University had taken all shares out of BAE, put it in a bag and buried it in front of Heslington Hall, they would have made more money than they did investing in the arms trade. It’s not the worst of their investments but it’s still blatantly a stupid idea. If people are complaining that all shares are dropping, why the heck are we still investing in them?!

    Reply

  30. 2 Mar ’09 at 4:32 pm

    A. Catsambas

    George, throughout this campaign, you have repeated that the economic aspect is irrelevant, and that the immorality of the investment is a good ground to cancel it.
    However, as you know, the money invested comes from the university’s pension fund. According to the law (you can find details here: http://www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk/trustees/guidance/index.aspx), the trustees of the fund (that is, the people who take all investment decisions), have to act in a way that promotes the (financial) interests of the beneficiaries. Unless you know for certain that the pension receivers agree with the ethical investment policy, and you can prove beyond doubt that there are other companies at least as safe as BAE and Rolls Royce, it is illegal to withdraw these investments.
    A.

    Reply

  31. 2 Mar ’09 at 5:13 pm

    A. Catsambas

    Jason, what you are describing is known as the hindsight bias. You talk about the past, as though the events that took place were predictable, when, in fact, they were not. How was the university to know that shares would drop in general?
    I know people can claim that the whole crisis was predictable, but if it actually was, it would not have occurred!
    Thus, given the information the university had a year ago, buying BAE shares was a sound thing to do, financially speaking.
    A.

    Reply

  32. 2 Mar ’09 at 8:30 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    “George, throughout this campaign, you have repeated that the economic aspect is irrelevant, and that the immorality of the investment is a good ground to cancel it.”

    What we actually said is that the economic aspect is irrelevant in this case because we invest an insignificant sum on those two companies, so we can easily spread it to our current portfolio without having an impact. This is very very different to what you suggested, which is that we just don’t care about what’s happening with the university’s finances.

    “prove beyond doubt that there are other companies at least as safe as BAE and Rolls Royce”

    I am sure that you are not suggesting that BAE and Rolls Royce are THE safest investments on earth. If you are not suggesting that, your argument is invalid. If you are suggesting that, then I don’t think I even need to respond. The university’s financial advisors are more than capable of finding safe and profitable investment opportunities, very much like those that they have entrusted the remaining £330,000,000 of the university’s money!

    This conversation is moving in circles and it is getting increasingly boring and repetitive. Unless there are any new arguments to debate on I suggest we leave it at that.

    Reply

  33. 2 Mar ’09 at 9:45 pm

    A. Catsambas

    This is getting boring, because whenever I offer new arguments, or point out flaws in your own, you ignore them.
    For instance, I explained to you that the fact that the shares in BAE only account for a fraction of the total investment is irrelevant: a balanced portfolio is meant to be split very diversely.
    I am indeed suggesting that BAE is one of the safest possible investment: it is backed up by the British government, thus there is no possibility of bankruptcy. And as I said, the portfolio managers are required by the law to serve the interests of the beneficiaries, thus they are legally obliged to place returns above morals.
    You also ignored my reply to your “we never claimed BAE and Rolls Royce” are bad investments.
    If you do not want this to get boring, you’d better reply to all points directly, rather than picking out minor holes in only some of them.
    A.

    Reply

  34. 2 Mar ’09 at 11:12 pm

    George Papadofragakis

    “I am indeed suggesting that BAE is one of the safest possible investments”

    My question was not whether it was one of the safest. My question was whether it was THE safest investment that is currently possible. If it is not, or if there are other opportunities that are just as safe, then the argument about the legitimacy of ‘going ethical’ is invalid. I’ve said that before but you ignored it. Let me repeat myself again:

    The university’s financial advisors are more than capable of finding safe and profitable investment opportunities, very much like those that they have entrusted the remaining £330,000,000 of the university’s money.

    And the fact that we invest so little in BAE and Rolls is very very relevant; it proves that we can easily find other investment opportunities that are just as safe and just as profitable without risking absolutely anything.

    To close this argument, not investing in the arms trade is really not that big a deal in financial terms – it is what the university already does with the vast majority of its money.

    We only ask it to keep its own promises and remove its minuscule investments from two companies that violate the its own explicit commitments. And that’s a point you simply can’t ignore. No matter whether you agree or disagree with the notion of an ethical investment policy, the fact of the matter is that the university has made an explicit commitment to refrain from supporting practices that cause harm on society.

    If you don’t agree with what we are arguing for, blame the university for making this commitment. Try to change it if you wish, but until that time an ethical investment policy is something that we should be and will be adopting.

    “For instance, I explained to you that the fact that the shares in BAE only account for a fraction of the total investment is irrelevant: a balanced portfolio is meant to be split very diversely”

    I am aware that a balanced portfolio is meant to be diverse, but this does not automatically mean that it should include BAE shares. By mere virtue of the fact that we have such a diverse portfolio we can see that there are countless other investment opportunities that the university can choose from. I am sure that you can concede that there is at least one profitable company out there that does not make money out of making killing machines.

    “If you do not want this to get boring, you’d better reply to all points directly, rather than picking out minor holes in only some of them.”

    That’s a bit rich – you do exactly the same.

    And just to clarify, what is it that you want your university to invest in after all? Do you believe that the policy that is being discussed is not enough or do you think that there should not be an ethical investment policy in the first place?

    It is pointless to discuss if we do not know what we are both arguing for.

    Reply

  35. “I know people can claim that the whole crisis was predictable, but if it actually was, it would not have occurred!”

    Really poor logic there.

    “Unless you know for certain that the pension receivers agree with the ethical investment policy, and you can prove beyond doubt that there are other companies at least as safe as BAE and Rolls Royce, it is illegal to withdraw these investments.”

    Not true. Because the university is a charity, the trustee board has a legal responsibility to act in the best interests of the charity whether financial or otherwise. Since the university’s mission statement is to be ethical then they would be acting illegally to NOT act ethically. Granted that they also have a responsibility to be financially successful but, well, they haven’t.

    And I’ve already named several companies that were more successful over the last year. It’s quite easy to spot trends – once Zavvi was closing down, HMV was going to profit from being a monopoly. Etc. Of course that isn’t necessarily going to increase shares prices but it’s still a point.

    And the final thing I’m going to say in the thread is this: David Duncan, Registrar and Secretary, has raved about how university investments are invested in M&G and how it’s good enough for Amnesty International etc. The pension fund is not invested through M&G but the ‘important’ shares are… M&G don’t buy BAE and are also more profiting. Surely that suggests that, since the bigger investment companies aren’t investing unethically and are making bigger profits, the companies in question aren’t really any better for us?

    After all, only £700,000 is invested in arms shares now compared to the £330,000,000 (according to CAAT and other online statistics), £150,000,000 approx (according to Graham Gilbert) or under £4,000,000 (according to David Duncan) in shares that York owns. Whilst having a wide investment is beneficial if all shares are going up, and in six months time they probably will start to go up again, there is obviously a large majority of share-holdings in other companies that HAVEN’T given weapons to dictators, provided torture implements to Saudi Arabia or been involved in massive scandals regarding military coups among other things.

    Since the university’s major investment companies all seem to think that investing in BAE isn’t for them, the minor companies should probably follow suit. And you’d have less students complaining.

    Reply

  36. Jason Rose,

    Your statement of ‘fact’ is this:

    “Nestlé were responsible for the deaths of thousands if not hundreds of thousands or more by extremely unethical practise in Africa in the last 30 years.”

    Seriously, Jason Rose? What is your source for this alleged genocide?

    I think you should read up on matters before you make factually incorrect and offensive comments. Admittedly, Nestlé’s marketing strategy for milk formula in the 1970s was morally dubious to say the least, but in the last 30 years, the development has gone the other way – the board of directors responsible for the scandal has been replaced, and a new policy implemented (you can read a little about the adoption of the WHO Code here http://www.babymilk.nestle.com/Developping+World/WHO+Code/WHO+Code+recommendations.htm)

    Jason Rose, I realise that you have a passion for debating in online forums, and sometimes I even think you have valid points, but check your facts, check again, and then think twice about commenting.

    Sincerely,
    Erik O’Connor

    Reply

  37. I didn’t allege genocide. Genocide is deliberate and towards a specific group of people – whereas Nestlé were responsible for deaths by malpractise.

    Erik, I said “in the last 30 years” for a reason. I acknowledge that Nestlé have improved a lot in a variety of ways and I’m not disputing that. Apologies if my words were not clear.

    There are plenty of organisations worldwide that may be considered unethical, as Nestlé’s actions 30 years ago would probably include, and many would argue that McDonalds, Adidas, etc. are unethical. However this isn’t covered in the ethical investment policy – hence the reason that I responded to Aris’ point on the matter.

    Reply

  38. “I am proud of the fact my university invests in great British industry, like BAE systems who make some of the most advanced military hardware in the world.

    Long may it continue.”

    Hear hear!

    Reply

  39. I don’t understand how you can be proud of a group who sold weapons to dictators, used underhand methods to get investment to other dictators, supported genocide in several companies and have made torture implements for countries like Saudi Arabia.

    I’m sickened by it and I would suggest that most students feel likewise.

    Reply



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