Newly-formed Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition releases demands

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Credit: Hepzi Rattray

Sam Doak
Investigations Editor

Following an investigation published by The Glasgow Guardian revealing the extent of the University’s stake in arms investment, a coalition has been set up by six University societies to protest for full divestment.

A number of student societies and advocacy groups have formed a coalition to campaign for the University of Glasgow’s complete divestment from companies engaged in the provision of military services and the manufacturing and supply of arms. The Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition is currently comprised of the University’s student branches of Amnesty International, Extinction Rebellion and Student Action for Refugees (STAR). The University’s Palestine Society has also opted to join the coalition, as has Glasgow Refugee and Asylum Seeker Solidarity (GRASS) and the Green Anti-Capitalist Front.

According to the Coalition’s organisers, talks between the organisation’s constituent groups began on 3 October 2019 in response to an article published by The Glasgow Guardian which revealed the extent of the University’s financial stake in arms manufacturers and providers of military services. As a result of this meeting and subsequent discussions, a list of demands were issued by the Coalition on 16 October on social media. The Coalition’s list of demands reads as follows:

“We demand full divestment from the arms trade in adherence with the University’s Policy on Socially Responsible Investment.”

“We demand a pledge detailing a divestment timeframe of less than two years.”

“We demand acknowledgement that investment in the arms trade will never comply with the University’s Policy on Socially Responsible Investment.”

“We demand a pledge to never again invest in companies that have any links to the arms trade, and to pursue greater accountability of fund managers and internal investment decisions.”

“We demand a comprehensive and immediate ban of all arms companies from campus events and that the careers department and post-graduate schemes sever all ties with such companies.”

In pursuance of its objectives, the Coalition has committed itself to a long-term campaign aimed at raising awareness amongst members of the student body. The Coalition has stated that the campaign will continue until the University concedes to the organisation’s demands. The official launch of this campaign will be held at noon in the Glasgow University Union (GUU) on Wednesday 23 October. The event has been planned to coincide with the University’s Engineering and Technology Fair, which is also being hosted in the GUU. The Coalition is protesting the fair due to it being sponsored by BAE Systems, a prominent arms manufacturer.

In a statement given to The Glasgow Guardian, the Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition has condemned the University’s continued investment in the arms trade. Emphasising the broad nature of their movement, a spokesperson stated the following:

“Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition absolutely condemns the University’s funding of conflict around the globe. We have a plan of consciousness raising and direct action in order to pressure the University to divest and sever all ties with arms companies and military service providers. The campaign has such a broad base of societies due to the very nature of the arms trade. It is damaging in so many ways, from furthering the climate crisis to violation of human rights. We hope that the University will hear loud and clear that the student population does not accept this use of money now, nor ever.”

When asked for comment, the Coalition’s constituent groups were keen to highlight their respective organisation’s motivations for joining the Coalition. A spokesperson for GRASS pointed to the role of the arms trade in the destabilising of war-affected regions and in the subsequent displacement of their inhabitants. According to GRASS:

“Investing in companies which sell arms to nations, knowing that they will be used for the murder of innocent people, is anything but responsible or morally sound. GRASS is particularly passionate about this campaign because many refugees and asylum seekers have escaped war-torn nations. It’s totally wrong that our own University can be funding, and profiting from, the very actions which put people in such a vulnerable position.”

While stating its opposition to investment in arms companies in general, the Glasgow University Palestine Society made it clear that it was primarily motivated to join the Coalition due to the fact that many of the arms companies invested in by the University have engaged in the supplying of goods and services to the Israeli state. Speaking on this, a spokesperson for the society stated the following:

“Although we appreciate the University’s endeavours in facilitating opportunities for Palestinian students to come and study in Glasgow, investing in corporations which are complicit in depriving them of access to education in Palestine itself completely undermines the gesture. The presence of companies such as BAE systems on campus, whose complicity in Israeli war crimes are well documented, is unwelcome to Palestinian students who are adversely affected by them in almost every aspect of their lives, and that of their families.”

The University of Glasgow’s student branch of Extinction Rebellion were also eager to highlight its own rationale for joining the Divestment Coalition. When approached for comment, a spokesperson for the group cited the high ecological cost of armed conflicts as well as the environmental damage caused by the manufacturing and transporting of weapons of war. Speaking on the need for international cooperation to address the current climate crisis, the spokesperson went on to state that “we cannot expect any meaningful collaboration or action to happen if we are constantly at war.”

The formation of the Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition has been welcomed by Campaign Against the Arms Trade, a national advocacy group that has been campaigning on the issue since 1974. In response to a query by The Glasgow Guardian, a spokesperson from CAAT stated the following:

“We support the efforts and organising of students demanding an education that isn’t invested in companies that profit from war, conflict and repression around the world. The campaigners are right, there is nothing socially responsible about universities working with and investing in arms companies. These companies have armed and supported human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships around the world. The University of Glasgow must not only divest from arms companies, it must also end the sponsorship and teaching agreements that it has in place with arms companies.

“Pressure from students is essential to not only demand an end to an education that profits from oppression, but also to secure a democratic and transparent education. Seminar rooms and University events should not be used as promotional vehicles for companies that are developing technologies of death. Instead, freedom, critical thought, creativity and innovation should be encouraged and supported as part of an education that strives to contribute positively to society.”

When approached for comment on the formation of the Coalition and its plans to protest the upcoming Engineering and Technology Fair, a spokesperson for the University of Glasgow released the following statement:

“The University of Glasgow has a clear ethical investment policy which is published on our website along with a list of our investments – this policy is kept under regular review. Our preference is to give our fund managers maximum discretion over where funds invest in order to ensure the best return for scholarships and other endowment-funded activities. Only a small proportion of income currently derives from companies involved in the defence sector, but this can vary over time. We are also aware that many general engineering companies – including ones which are significant local employers – have an involvement in this sector.”