Glasgow University invests over £3m in arms trade and military services providers

Credit: Bethany Woodhead

Sam Doak
Investigations Editor

An investigation by The Glasgow Guardian has revealed the extent of the University of Glasgow’s financial stake in some of the world’s leading arms manufacturers and military services providers. According to a complete statement of the University’s investments, a copy of which was obtained by The Glasgow Guardian through a freedom of information request, the University of Glasgow had a total of £3,110,663 invested in such companies as of 30 June 2019.

The companies operating within these sectors that the University was most heavily invested in (as of June 2019) were General Electric (in which the University was found to have a £760,303 stake); BAE Systems (£385,451); United Technologies (£247,170); Boeing (£247,166); and Honeywell (£215,099). Investments in prominent arms manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin (£180,813), Raytheon (£99,052), and Northrop Grumman (£106,375), were also held by the University at this time.

Though substantial, the University of Glasgow’s financial stake in arms producers and military service providers has decreased since 2018. Publicly available figures show that, as of 30 June 2018, the institution had a total of £3,459,066 invested in such companies. From the conclusion of the 2017/2018 financial year to that of 2018/2019, it appears that the University’s stake in these companies reduced by 10.07%.

It is currently unclear as to whether ethical considerations were a factor which contributed to the reduction of the University’s investments in the aforementioned industries. The University does have a policy regarding socially responsible investment, but this does not explicitly address investments in arms manufacturers or companies that otherwise profit from the facilitation of violence. While this is the case there is, however, an allowance set out within the University’s policy which allows representations to be made to the University Secretary when concerns are raised as to the ethical standing of its investments. For such a representation to be successful, the investment in question must be contrary to the University’s officially stated values or raise “wider issues of social, environmental and humanitarian concern”. Whether any such representations have been made to date regarding the University’s investments in arms manufacturers and providers of military services is currently unknown.

In response to The Glasgow Guardian’s findings, a spokesperson for the University has stated the following:

“The University of Glasgow is committed to socially responsible investment, with a clear ethical investment policy published on our website along with a list of our investments. Many of the companies listed in the source provided are involved in a variety of industries and derive only a small proportion of income from areas that are defence related. The University holdings in the companies listed in the source make up less than 2% of our endowment holdings and less than 1% of our total investments as of 30 June 2019.”

While it is true that some of the companies referred to above derive a minority of their income from the provision of arms and military services, this should not be interpreted as entailing that they have minimal involvement in these industries. General Electric, for example, derived approximately 3% of its revenue from such activity in 2017, according to a December 2018 report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. While this is a relatively small amount in comparison to the company’s total revenue, in real terms this amounted to approximately $3.83 billion. All of the 27 companies identified by The Glasgow Guardian for the purposes of this investigation are leaders in the aforementioned industries. Their status as such is not contingent on what proportion of their revenue is derived from the provision of arms and/or military services. It is a result of the amount of revenue they have earned from these activities, irrespective of their other sources of income.

When asked for comment on the University’s investments, a spokesperson for the University of Glasgow’s student branch of Amnesty International was keen to emphasise the real-world consequences of investment in the companies described above. Singling out BAE Systems, the group’s spokesperson stated the following:

“In October 2015, Amnesty International UK examined the war crimes committed in the Yemen conflict in a 40-page report. The report revealed a pattern of the appalling disregard for civilian lives displayed by the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition. The UK, a major supplier of arms and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia, diverted a consignment of 500lbs ‘Paveway IV’ bombs to Saudi Arabia. These bombs were used to target a Yemeni ceramics factory – a civilian building on 23 September 2015, and a hospital supported by MSF (Doctors Without Borders) in Northern Yemen on 26 October 2015.

“These bombs are used by Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets, both of which are manufactured and supplied to Saudi Arabia by the UK arms company BAE Systems. These are one of the arms manufacturers who the University of Glasgow have invested in.

“The lack of accountability from investors, such as the University of Glasgow, and of governments, such as the UK, has had a severe impact on civilians. More than 17,640 have been killed and injured and a man-made humanitarian crisis has spiralled, with approximately 14 million people in the country suffering from food insecurity. The flow of weapons must be stopped.”

A spokesperson for the national advocacy group Campaign Against the Arms Trade was also critical when approached for comment. In response to The Glasgow Guardian’s findings, a spokesperson for the group released the following statement:

“Universities are public institutions that work for the public good; they should not be investing in companies that are making the world a worse and more dangerous place. These companies have armed and supported some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world. Glasgow should take the opportunity to set a positive precedent by ending its support for arms companies and adopting an ethical investment strategy.”

Scott Kirby, President of Glasgow University’s Students’ Representative Council, joined Amnesty and Campaign Against the Arms Trade in calling on the University to divest. Pointing to prior instances in which the institution allowed moral considerations to guide its policy making, Kirby stated:

“Recently the University has started active reparations in line with past connections to the slave trade, has begun divesting from fossil fuels, and was the first Scottish higher education to declare a climate emergency. In light of this, the University should continue this trend of showing moral leadership by considering its ethical position and the impact it has on society. Despite facing criticism in 2015, it is disappointing to see that there are continued investments in the arms trade. We are a University trying to develop ‘world changers’, and therefore the way the University operates should reflect the values and morals of the students that study here.”