The petition put forward by Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition demanded the University of Glasgow fully divest from companies involved in arms trade within two years.
The University court has rejected the petition put forward by Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC), demanding that the institution fully divests from companies involved in the arms trade within two years in accordance with the University’s policy on socially responsible investment.
The petition was drawn up following an investigation by The Glasgow Guardian last year which revealed that, as of June 2019, the University had a total of £3,110,663 invested across 27 companies that are involved in the arms trade. This included a £385,451 stake in BAE systems, who profited over £15bn through selling arms to Saudi Arabia in a five year period that coincided with the extensive attacks on Yemen.
The University court rejected the petition on the advice of a working group report that investigated the issue, which is chaired by Gavin Stewart, the former vice chair of Oxfam. The grounds for rejecting the petition were that it “raised complex issues and that it was very difficult to see them in isolation”, as well as the fact “the companies operated within the legal framework of the UK and UN treaties and within export licences issued by the UK government”.
It was also noted in the court’s minutes of their meeting on 23 June that the endowment fund tied to the companies listed in the petition make up just 2% of investments, and “some of the companies named in the petition had long-standing links with the University as funders of research”.
Although the demands of the petition were not met by the court, they did accept the recommendations put forward by the working group. The University will take three separate actions: firstly, the University will write to the UK government, “making the case that licences should not be issued for the export of defence material to countries with an unacceptable human rights record.” In response, the GUADC has told The Glasgow Guardian that this particular resolution is “laughable... merely a preening gestural dismissal of our demands”, as the assumption that “the weight of Sir Anton Muscatelli’s rhetorical floristry might change the minds of a creepingly fascistic British political establishment would indicate sparkling naivete”.
The court also agreed to write to arms manufacturers in whom UofG invests, “urging the companies to consider whether their activities were fully compatible with their publicly stated values,” on the premise that this has been successful in the energy sector with companies moving to renewable sources on the back of investment pressure. According to the GUADC, this is a “falsehood”, as “the fact remains that none of the major companies have made any inroads towards a sustainable existence, let alone an ecological existence”. In relation to the resolution, the group has not held back, calling it “completely fucking ridiculous and quite frankly rude” on the basis that “industries who reap billions of pounds in profits annually from the facilitation of massive bloodshed and displacement across the globe will be coaxed into doing this less after pleas from a Scottish university is baseless”.
The final resolution was “a formal ban on investment in any company that contravenes international/UN treaties related to the arms trade where the UK is signatory to such treaties”. GUADC view this as inherently unworkable, stating: “The UN exists to facilitate western neo-colonial exploitation and to allow for the global north to reap its profits and export its killing machines wherever it may”, therefore, “those who have even been accused of contravention of laws will see those accusations dismissed after deflections and diversions through years of court proceedings”. They add: “the law should be no arbiter for morality”.
These resolutions were not supported unanimously by the court; the SRC assessor, Teresa Baños, is recorded as stating: "This was an important issue to students and the University should be taking a moral stance on investment in companies with a link to the arms trade.” This was seconded by the then-SRC president, Scott Kirby, who said: “The working group outcomes and felt that the recommendations should go further”, as he felt the current policy was incompatible with the University policy and support for asylum seekers. There was also wider concern within the meeting that the arranged outcomes did not address the point of the petition and that the Court risked damaging the University’s reputation.
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