The survey, launched online, has allowed respondents to voice their opinion on whether the Union should invest in industries considered ethically problematic such as pornography, fossil fuels, and the armament sector. The Union will invest its reserves and part of the Clubs, Societies and Projects funding account, stating the money would only lose in value if left untouched, due to inflation.
The responses have been taken into consideration by the Union’s Finance and Risk Committee, who will be discussing the potential ethical dilemmas, as well as the risks and returns that each option brings. Matt Blackett, Deputy President (Finance & Services) told Felix: “A staff and student panel met all of the shortlisted fund managers on Tuesday and, guided by student input throughout, they have reached a decision. Once the paperwork is done, we look forward to telling our members how we’re putting our reserves to work so we can fund even more activities and events”.
In a statement, Divest Imperial – a student-run campaign pressuring the Union and College to withdraw investments from fossil fuels – has accused the survey of being misleading, factually incorrect, and undermining student campaigning and democracy. They stated: “The survey directly equates the exclusion of fossil fuels, armaments, alcohol, gambling, pornography and tobacco from a portfolio with a ‘severe risk’, which is misleading and clearly lends itself to bias. There was also no attempt to explain the arguments, including financial, in favour of moving investments away from fossil fuels, potentially undermining the Union’s existing commitments to divestment and support for the campaign. Although we expressed our concerns to the DPFS directly following the survey launch, we are yet to receive a response. We hope the Union will fulfil its original resolution to fully divest from fossil fuels, communicate more effectively with students in future, and work with us in holding university management to account on this issue”.
Last year the Union made the commitment to no longer invest in fossil fuel and to implement alternative responsible investment strategies. The Council paper implementing the decision, brought forward by Rhidian Thomas (Ethics & Environment Officer) and supported by the Divest Imperial campaign, has estimated that the college directly invested £5.4 million in fossil fuel companies with further investments been made by externally managed funds. It was believed that Imperial was one of the top investors among UK universities.
The paper also highlighted that the increase in global temperatures is due largely to burning of fossil fuels, that some of these companies have been implicated in cases of human rights abuses, and their overall image did not fit in with the Union’s values.
Imperial College London has been found to be one of the least ethical investors within higher education in the People and Planet University league table, ranking at the 141st place – the lowest amongst the Russell Group.
An investigation by Felix earlier this year showed the College was investing £3.5 million in the tobacco industry, nearly £9 million in the fossil fuel industry, £3.1 million in the arms industry, and over £16 million in pharmaceuticals, out of a total fund of over £266 million.
Companies that received investment from the College, such as Exxon and Shell, have been accused of burying evidence of global warming and committing crimes against humanity.
One academic told Felix: “The world looks to us to set the agenda of research; how can we lead from the front when our eyes are still squarely focused on the past and its former cash cows – fossil fuels”.
The survey can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/2HuOGGE