Tuesday, 16 October 2007
Edinburgh indirectly funds Burmese junta
Published in Student newspaper 16/10/07 by Liz Rawlings
THE UNIVERSITY of Edinburgh’s ethical investment credentials have been cast into serious doubt after it emerged that the university holds shares in oil company Total, a corporation who have been held responsible for fuelling the oppression in Burma.
An investigation conducted by Student has revealed that the University of Edinburgh holds overseas equities in the French company, a significant player in the funding of the military dictatorship in Burma.
Burma has been ruled by a military junta with a reputation for brutality for 45 years. The past few months have seen peaceful demonstrations in the country violently repressed.
The National League for Democracy (NLD), won 82 per cent of seats in Burma’s 1990 election, a result which was not recognised by the current dictatorship. The party has called on foreign companies not to invest in Burma because of the role investment plays in perpetuating dictatorship in the country.
Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest by order of the ruling junta, has stated that “Total has become the main supporter of the Burmese military regime…it knew what it was doing when it invested massively in Burma while others withdrew from the market for ethical reasons.”
A recent report by Co-operative Financial Services (CFS), one of the largest financial services organisations in the UK, has put Total’s annual revenue to the Burmese regime at as much as 450 million dollars. The report also highlights human rights abuses by the oil company in the region and states that ‘Total’s investment in Burma has helped the regime to build its military capacity and its control of the country’s population. It has therefore impeded the prospect of democratic change.’
It is Total’s human rights violations and support of a brutal dictatorship which have led Edinburgh students to question their university’s commitment to ethical investment, a responsibility further undermined by the fact that Total had a stall at the Careers Fair last week.
Politics student Tim Gee told Student: “In the context of current events in Burma, I am appalled to see Total oil represented at the Careers Fair. Total has done more than any other European company to prop up the military junta, even colluding in forced labour and displacement of villages to do its work. I am further shocked to discover that the university has shares in this despicable company. These are not the actions of a university that cares about human rights and the environment.”
The exact number of shares which the University of Edinburgh holds in Total is unknown, but is thought to be a substantial amount because the latest annual financial report published at the end of 2006 stated that the university holds over 154 million pounds worth of shares across 81 companies.
The University of Edinburgh has a much vaunted, Socially Responsible Investment policy which states that "it is possible for any group within the University to draw attention to any investment held by the University that is considered ‘unethical.’"
The policy also states that ‘the key criterion against which specific cases would be considered would be whether the activity complained of was wholly contrary to the university’s value systems…or in regard to wider issues of social, environmental and humanitarian concern.’
Based on this criterion, students are likely to launch a campaign to get the university to disinvest in Total at the next Annual General Meeting in early November, an approach that has been successful in the past after student pressure led to the University of Edinburgh withdrawing investment in BAE systems, Nestle and British American Tobacco.
The recent findings have also prompted calls for the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) to appoint an Ethics and Environment officer.
The University of Edinburgh was contacted with regard to its investment in Total but did not respond.
Student newspaper http: www.studentnewspaper.org/?q=node/953
Burma Campaign on Total: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/total_report.html
Posted by EthicalInvestmentedinburgh at 09:25