Responsible Investment – some FAQs!
What is responsible, or ethical, investment?
Responsible, or Ethical Investment is simply the screening of an individual’s or institution’s investments for ethical criteria. This might involve measures like refusing to invest in arms companies, refusing to invest in companies with a history of human rights abuses, or choosing to invest in companies doing positive work in the majority of the world.
Why Responsible Investment at Edinburgh University?
In its Strategic Plan 2012-2016, the University of Edinburgh stated that it aimed to “create the conditions under which our students, staff and the wider community are inspired and supported to engage with and contribute to social responsibility and sustainability across the University and beyond”, as well as to “exhibit high ethical standards”1.
Unfortunately, the university is not adhering to these principles. It is investing in dubious companies with little transparency when these decisions are made2.
We feel that as a democratic institution the university should foster open debate and use its resources responsibly and with concern for the wider world.
The university has over £250 million of investments; many of these were donations to the university. We feel the university should be using these generous donations responsibly.
Hasn’t there already been an ethical investment campaign? Wasn’t effective policy implemented then?
There has already been an Ethical Investment campaign, from 2002-2003, led by People and Planet3. This campaign was successful in persuading the university to implement its Policy on Socially Responsible Investment4. As it stands, the university releases the names of companies it invests in every six months, decided by the Investment Committee. A student or staff member is free to bring a complaint to the University Court (through appropriate channels – in the case of students, through EUSA) and challenge its investment in that company.
As it stands, the policy requires the student and staff body to be constantly scrutinising the work of the Investment Committee when it publishes its investments every six months.
What is wrong with this? What do we need to change and how?
While implementation of this policy was a real success for the 2003 campaign, we believe the policy does not go far enough. As it stands, the policy requires the student and staff body to be constantly scrutinising the work of the Investment Committee when it publishes its investments every six months. Like all universities, Edinburgh is subject to the Freedom of Information Act but again this requires a great deal of proactive work on the part of normal students or staff.
We believe that the Investment Committee should instead be given criteria on which to base their investments, for example a blanket ban on companies participating in the arms trade.
For example, the university is investing in Ultra Electronics Hdg, which makes heading reference sensors for Predator Drones. If a blanket ban were in place for companies participating in the arms trade, Edinburgh University would not be investing in Ultra Electronics Hdg in the first place.
What do we need to change and how?
Firstly, we would like to see an elected student – preferably the EUSA president – sitting on the Investment Committee full-time, thereby making the Investment Committee more transparent and accountable to the student body.
Secondly, we propose the creation of an Ethical Investment Committee, to work alongside the proposed student and the Investment Committee. This Ethical Investment Committee would have a range of purposes, but in general would be constantly scrutinising the decisions of the Investment Committee5.
Thirdly, we would like to see blanket ban on investments in the arms trade and a commitment to disengage from arms and fossil fuels in the future.
Fourth, we would like to see 25% of university investments put into an ethical fund manager (the university is changing its investment structure and is currently looking to relocate 25% of its investments.
In the long term, we would like to put together a Charter for Responsible Investments, detailing what makes a socially responsible university that can possibly be used and adopted by other universities in the UK.
1University of Edinburgh’s Strategic Plan 2012-2016, which can be found here: http://www.docs.sasg.ed.ac.uk/gasp/strategicplanning/201216/StrategicPlan201216.pdf
2The full list of companies that the university invests in is here (it will be updated in January 2013): https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/download/attachments/68630087/Portfolio-of-Investments.pdf
4The Policy on Socially Responsible Investment can be found here: http://www.docs.sasg.ed.ac.uk/GaSP/Governance/SociallyResponsibleInvestment.pdf
5For more information about what the proposed Ethical Investment Committee would do, please see page 2-3 of the ‘The Case for Ethical Investment at the University of Edinburgh in 2003′, a proposal that was not adopted in the 2002-2003 Ethical Investment Campaign, found here: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CE0QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.seag.estates.ed.ac.uk%2Fdocs%2Fopen%2FPaper10-ReviewofSRIPolicy-AppendixC-FULL.doc&ei=TLQBUY6sLIrN0QW8zYH4BQ&usg=AFQjCNE4pUnhZ2Gz-5-d2umRKMKy_2SO_g&sig2=E1zq7AAfcqWzD6haZ5Uc1A&bvm=bv.41524429,d.d2k