Last week, the University of Southampton joined the growing list of Universities who have decided to take a stance against investments in the arms trade. In this article Sebastian, Odell of Southampton University explains what’s happened and how students forced the university into taking action.
For many year now, Campaign Against the Arms Trade has been running campaigns encouraging Universities to sever links to the arms trade. The global arms trade is not only profiteering from conflict and devastation around the world; some of the largest arms producers have been repeatedly investigated over corruption and are involved in distributing weaponry to dictatorships and those with poor human rights records. Most recently, there has been a great deal of concern surrounding arms deals to Saudi Arabia, engaged in a war against Yemen in which they are alleged to have committed grave violations of human rights.
Since last Summer, Invest Positive UoS have been campaigning to have the University of Southampton’s endowment fund divested from the Arms Trade, along with coal, oil from tar sands or arctic drilling, tobacco. We sent an open letter to the University, signed by staff members and presidents of a number of student societies. In December we passed a policy through the Students’ Union mandating the Union to support and represent us in this campaign. Unfortunately, they insisted upon the removal of the clause concerning the arms trade, because it was felt that the University’s links to the arms trade were too strong and we would damage valuable relationships with business partners who fund research in the University and employ our graduates.
But last week, the University of Southampton announced it was appointing Kames Capital as fund manager for the University’s endowment fund, meaning the fund will now be managed as a Kames Ethical Cautious Managed Fund. The Ethical Cautious Managed fund is a “dark green” fund meaning it has stringent screening criteria for the ethical standards of the companies it invests in.
One of these criteria is that the fund screens out companies who “manufacture armaments, nuclear weapons or associated strategic products”. This means that none of the University of Southampton’s endowment fund, drawn in part from the tuition fees of their students, may be in any way funding the Arms Industry.
The criteria are wide ranging, excluding all organisations that:
- Are involved in animal testing
- Are part of energy intensive industries and are not tackling the issue of climate change
- Are part of the banking sector and have exposure to high levels of Third World Debt
- Operate in countries with poor human rights records and have no management policies on human rights issues
The full list of criteria can be found here.
The University also had a direct investment in Shell, separate to their endowment fund, which was the target of our Green Hearts campaign – a physical petition in which students signed green hearts asking for the University to divest from Shell. The hearts were delivered to the Vice Chancellor, and the University has now divested its holding in Shell.
In the end, contrary to many people’s expectations about how much could be achieved in a University with strong links to the Arms Trade, we won a decisive victory. So if you are part of campaign to end your University’s links with this industry, the message from Southampton is not to aim low, not to accept the status quo as fixed and unchangeable. There will always be people who say that things cannot change, but sustained and impassioned campaigning can prove this defeatism wrong.
Congratulations to the University of Southampton for rejecting investment in the Arms Trade!