The University has been strongly condemned for substantially increasing its investment in arms companies despite continued pressure from divestment groups.
After a £350,000 increase over the past two years, the University’s shareholding in arms-producing companies is worth almost £1,000,000.
The continued investment, and the University’s lack of an ethical investment policy has been labelled “despicable”, “a disgrace” and “fuelling war”. National and campus campaigners have been calling for divestment since 2005.
Investments in BAE Systems, the world’s third largest defence company, and Rolls-Royce, which powers 25% of the world’s military aircrafts, currently total £997,342. In 2007 the University held £644,371 worth of BAE shares.
The figures, compiled by Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), show York as the UK’s sixth-largest University investor in the arms trade, and the second-largest when Oxford and Cambridge colleges are excluded. In 2006, York placed fourteenth nationally.
“The University needs to be held accountable, and take responsibility and an ethically approved stance,” said People and Planet Chair Robyn Heather. “It’s despicable and unethical that an educational institution would make money from war,” she added.
“While Universities across the country are selling shares in arms companies, York are increasing their investment. Nationally, we are a disgrace,” Heather continued.
YUSU Environment and Ethics Officers John Nicholls and Joe Thwaites stated: “Holding investments in arms companies has been an ongoing blemish on the University’s reputation and we find the continued and increased use of students’ money in arms companies very concerning.”
The shares are held by the University’s Pension Scheme, which provides pensions for staff on retirement or in the event of death.
“The University of York Pension Scheme has a legal obligation to maximise returns on its investments as it is accountable to its beneficiaries. Its trustees pursue a range of investments in order to fulfil the scheme’s financial obligations,” the University’s Press Office stated in response.
Outside of the Pension Scheme, the University holds an unknown amount of GKN Group shares through a holding in M&G Charifund Units. GKN, the world’s 40th largest defence company, produces military aircraft parts.
“At a public lecture, Brian Cantor commended the work of the Post-War Reconstruction and Development Unit. This is completely hypocritical. The University is promoting peace-building in one area but fuelling war in another,” said Nicholls and Thwaites.
“BAE Systems continue to sell arms to brutal regimes like Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, two of the worst human rights abusers on the planet,” said CAAT spokesperson Todd Higgs.
Rolls-Royce, for whom Vice-Chancellor Brian Cantor worked in a consultancy role prior to entering academia, power 25% of the world’s military aircraft and the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet.
“Both BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are major UK employers and each has substantial other industrial interests apart from their military activities,” the University stated.
According to 2007 financial results, military products account for around 90% of BAE’s £16 billion worth of sales.
“Arms manufacturers aren’t just ‘slightly dubious’ from an ethical point of view. They are one of the most damaging influences in society; the arms trade undermines human rights, security and economic development,” said Nicholls and Thwaites.
“The British public are quickly realising that the arms trade is not a benign and legitimate sector of business supplying defence equipment to responsible foreign governments,” said Higgs.
“All over the country, students are refusing to allow their tuition fees to end up in the hands of such a secretive and abhorrent industry,” he added.
Since 2006, when various student divestment campaigns across the country strongly criticised shareholdings, universities such as Swansea, Manchester, Leeds and Exeter have reduced or completely sold their shares in arms-producing companies.
Despite large student protests and campaigns, the University have so far not implemented an ethical investment policy. Currently, a draft is in development, which is “expected to come before University Council for approval in the New Year,” according to the University.
“It’s unbelievable that the University doesn’t yet have an ethical investment policy. It needs to start taking responsibility for its actions,” said Heather.
“Increasing numbers of institutions, including councils, businesses, churches and universities are choosing to invest their money in a socially responsible way which has a positive impact upon the world. We hope the University of York will do the same,” said Nicholls and Thwaites.