Monday, 29 October 2007

University's ethics on trial

Press Release


University's Ethics on Trial
For Immediate Release

Edinburgh University's ethical and environmental record is to 'go on trial' at this years Student AGM. As the deadline passed at 5 o clock today, a record number of motions had been submitted, calling for greener accommodation, cleaner investment and more ethical checks on research.

The calls come following a number of scandals including the revelations that the university holds more than £500,000 of shares in TOTAL oil (the biggest funder of the Burmese regime), and an investigation by Stop the War Society that reveals that the university designs equipment for the Pentagon.

Second year Biology student Sarah Holliday said 'The University prides itself on its socially responsible reputation. We want to help them live up to that'.

Past AGMs have succeeded in getting the university to strip Robert Mugabe of his honourary degree, twin with Birzeit University in Palestine and become a Fairtrade University.

The vote will take place on the 7th November at 7pm in George Square Theatre. All students are welcome.


RBS Profits from Burma links

RBS ‘profits from Burma links’
By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor, Glasgow herald

Human rights groups claim stake in Chinese bank sees Scots company cash in on oil interests

ONE OF Scotland's premier international companies has been accused of "fuelling repression" by propping up the brutal military regime that rules Burma.

Campaigners allege the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), through its stake in the Bank of China, is collaborating with oil and gas firms run by the Burmese junta. As a result, they claim, RBS is reaping millions of pounds in profit from a regime that abuses human rights and pollutes the planet.

RBS controls 8.25% of the Bank of China, and its chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin, is a director on the Chinese bank's board. The Bank of China is a key backer of two Chinese oil firms, Sinopec and PetroChina, which have been heavily criticised for co-operating with Burma's military rulers.

advertisementThe Bank of China, 70% owned by the Chinese government, is the world's sixth largest bank. In 2005 it arranged a $1.1 billion loan to Sinopec, and has pledged to underwrite a further $2.7bn worth of bonds for it next month.

Last month Sinopec began drilling an onshore oil well in a joint venture with the Burmese regime's Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. The official launch of the venture on September 26 coincided with the first day of the violent crackdown on civil dissent led by Buddhist monks.

Earlier this year, Sinopec signed a $1bn (£480m) contract for an oil pipeline and, between them, PetroChina and Sinopec operate many projects jointly with the regime. In August, Burma confirmed the sale of gas to PetroChina.

Now a coalition of three environmental and human rights groups has attacked RBS for its links to oil and gas projects in Burma. They claim RBS gained a "substantial proportion" of the Bank of China's $5.5bn profit for 2006. As Sinopec and PetroChina repay their loans, RBS is "banking profits derived from Burmese crude", they say.

"RBS's holdings are fuelling repression by financing fossil fuels in Burma," said Mika Minio, of the Platform environmental group in London.

Platform, with the Burma Campaign UK and BankTrack, will be writing to RBS this week demanding it take "public steps" to persuade the Bank of China not to support repression and human rights abuses in Burma. Failing that, they will urge RBS to sell its stake in the bank.

RBS, the world's 12th largest bank, has previously argued that diplomatic engagement with China is the best way to influence the communist state.

"Bank of China is a highly respected international financial institution," an RBS spokesman told the Sunday Herald. "Bank of China sets out its policies in its published accounts and we are happy with these policies and the way in which they are applied."

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

University's Burma link under attack

Published in Scotsman newspaper 23/10/07

STUDENTS have accused Edinburgh University of turning its back on ethical investment by supporting a French oil company with extensive links to the military dictatorship in Burma.

The Scotsman has learned that the university owns 16,640 shares, worth £647,219 in French oil company Total, which Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has described as: "the main supporter of the Burmese military regime."

Yesterday, a university spokeswoman confirmed 0.3 per cent of the university's portfolio was invested in Total but insisted it had a "socially responsible investment policy".

But the students say the university should withdraw its investments in Total. Dariush Bazazi, convener of the Edinburgh University Young Greens said: "We can't put profits before people, we have to put people before profits."

Friday, 19 October 2007

Ethical Investment - a means to an end - by Ric Lander

Ethical Investment: Ethical Consumerism for Institutions – A means to an end.

Universities hold many of the same characteristics as individuals – they manage an income, they make choices about their financial systems, and they spend money. Many NGOs have spent the recent years challenging the spending habits of individuals, institutions and corporations through schemes such as FairTrade. This has become so popular partly because it is blindingly obvious to people what's going on: you buy a shirt produced in a sweatshop and you're supporting that system, buy a chocolate bar from Nestle and you're handing profits to the baby milk demons. The same principal applies to the purchasing habits of universities, and of course, other institutions too.

Campaigns such as Ditch Dirty Development challenge consumers, in this case student account holders, to think about the effect their banking choices have. This, in a way, is the exact same principal behind Ethical Investment - instead of looking at the individual or institution's buying power (as with FairTrade) it challenges their saving power.

Corporations respond to user demand – this is, if you're asking Adam Smith, the great strength of capitalism – so called “consumer sovereignty”. Companies are required to maximise profit to survive and therefore if you increase the sales of the most ethical options they will be supplied more (this is of course the theory, not necessarily the practice, but go with me on this). As such ethical consumerism is very much a in situ solution, it accepts the economic system as it is. We may pay FairTrade farmers more but the capitalist will say the demand for FairTrade products is driven by consumers who value freedom from guilt as a much as they do taste.

The Big Goal

Therefore Ethical Investment, just like ethical consumerism, does not challenge the economic system. It works within it. Its goal must therefore be to effect change in the companies it targets.

If an institution, individual or corporation changes its buying or saving habits, this will effect the company doing the evil by altering its demand. This has been worked in the past as a means of effecting change, but rarely without additional action. Just as my lack of buying a Yorkie has little effect on Nestle's sales, if one university divests from BAE Systems it may go completely unnoticed (particularly true in relatively poor new universities). Thus, for the campaign to be successful and change the company it targets (or perhaps even bankrupt it) publicity and national coordination are crucial.

There is a great danger with an ethical investment campaign that highly dedicated campaigners could spend hours, weeks, even years slaving over the production of a policy which ends up being used by the University as an ethical Scout badge and has little impact on the true goal of changing corporate practice. Unsung heroes have no place in this campaign. I do not believe that Ethical Investment is an ends in itself – it should be used as a tool to embarrass corporations and put them to shame.

The Bonus

The other use of Ethical Investment is in connecting students with atrocity. We are often told we come from “apathetic” universities, but Ethical Investment sprouted popularity with uses of phrases along the lines of “it is awful that my money is being used in this way”. Just like other consumer-based campaigns, people feel that albeit indirectly, they are being made part of an unacceptable state of affairs. This “awakening” can have the potential to make all of the issues People & Planet campaigns on become front page, coffee break, conversation pieces. The media loves a story they can blame on specific, local people, because it makes it more accessible for Joe Nopolitics to comprehend. Tell a punter on the street that there's a company called Exxon-Mobil that denies climate science and is destroying the rainforest, and they'll probably say “I'm not surprised, but what can I do” - tell them money they pay is being funnelled into that company and they're much more likely to get a little angry.

So, Ethical Investment campaigning can influence the companies it leaves behind, and educate students along the way. But beware: as an end in itself, it can have a very limited impact. This only deepens the challenge set before groups of a campaign which can last years, and require extensive negotiation and attention to detail.

Am I wrong? Reply at

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

TOTALly unacceptable

Totally Unacceptable:

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:
Burma Campaign on Total:

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Letter to University re Total

Dear Edinburgh University

I am particularly concerned about the investment in Total mentioned on the website and dated July 2006. Please see for more information on Total's activities in Burma,

If you do not have time to visit this site the following is of particular concern.

Financing dictatorship: TOTAL’s project provides significant annual revenue to the regime. Some sources estimate as much as $450million. Natural gas is now Burma's largest single source of export revenue, accounting for around 30% of export earnings in 2002/03. TOTAL’s investment in Burma has helped the regime to build its military capacity and therefore its control of the country’s population. It has therefore impeded the prospect of democratic change.

Human rights abuse: TOTAL was fully aware of the dangers inherent in deploying Burmese Army troops in an area where civilian families were living. The company was equally aware of its clear civil responsibility to protect the villagers in the pipeline area from these dangers. Despite this, the company opted to employ, through MOGE, the services of an Army internationally renowned for its extreme and unrelenting brutality. In doing so it unleashed a terrible and lasting devastation on the communities of the region and for this, TOTAL must bear responsibility.

I hope that the university will pull out of its investment in Total.


Friday, 5 October 2007

Edinburgh University Profits from TOTAL (itarian) Oil

Documents publically available at reveal that Edinburgh University has investments in TOTAL oil, major funders of the Burmese military junta.

Action must be taken!

Solidarity with Burma

Saturday has been made a global day of action for Burma with protests in 67 cities around the world. Following a meeting at the Peace and Justice Centre tonight we have planned a Candle-lit vigil in solidarity at the Aung San Suu Kyi tree (beneath the floral clock). THIS SATURDAY 6 SEPTEMBER. 3pm. Please WEAR RED.

There will also be a sponsored run on the Meadows in the morning see .

Please circulate this to all of your contacts, tell the press (press release below) and come along.

It will be followed by a discussion on how to take the campaign forwards, including asking Edinburgh council to disinvest in companies that invest in Burma.

Edinburgh Citizens in Solidarity with Burma
Saturday 6 October, 3pm, West Princes Street Gardens.

Edinburgh citizens are to take part in the Global Day of Action for a Free Burma this Saturday (6 October), alongside protests taking place in 67 cities around the world.

In the morning, a sponsored 5k run will take place on the Meadows, and in the afternoon there will be an eye-catching but solemn candlelit vigil in West Princes Street Gardens. It will take place underneath a tree planted there for democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi when she was awarded the Freedom of the City by Edinburgh Council in 2005.

Those attending the vigil will wear red in solidarity with the thousands of monks and others who remain under arrest and at risk of torture in Burma.

Ko Aung, a Burmese student leader from the 1988 demonstrations said, 'This day of action is to show that this crisis has not gone away. Our friends, families and spiritual leaders are in jail cells today at risk of torture. The UN Security Council must act now to end the crackdown and must keep focused on this crisis until we know the people of Burma are safe. The international community must not desert them now.'

Juliette Daigre, a Burma Campaigner based in Edinburgh, said, 'The public meeting organized on Thursday to plan Edinburgh's response to the situation was packed to the rafters. We want the people of Burma to know that Edinburgh stands with them, and to show the Burmese government that we are watching their every move. We also hope the protests will force the UK Government to do more to demand an end to the military crackdown and get the UN Security Council to act.'


1: For more information, please email or call 07788708673
2: Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 'Freedom of the City of Edinburgh' in 2005 by the city council.
3: For more information on Burma and the Global Day of Action, please visit
4: For more information on the sponsored run, please contact
5: A petition will be signed and taken to the Chinese Consulate with the following text:
'We call on the Chinese government to pressure the Burmese Government to cease the violent suppression of the pro-democracy protests, release those detained, and guarantee their basic Human Rights. We also ask that the Burmese Government bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of innocent civilians'.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

THe University Of Edinburgh's Ethical Investment Policy - something to copy

The University of Edinburgh
“Socially Responsible Investment” – The Agreed Approach
1. It is competent, within the terms of the Trust Deeds, for the University Court to give the Trustees, and hence the Fund Managers (Baillie Gifford), guidance and indeed, instruction, on the way in which the endowment funds are invested. The Court recognises that compliance with such guidance could constrain the Trustees’ capacity to secure the maximum return on the endowment funds, and in such circumstances the Trustees may well choose to advise the Court of the prospective impact of any restrictions placed on their freedom of action.
2. The Court has endorsed an approach based on ‘engagement’ with companies on ethical issues through the Corporate Governance Unit operated by the Fund Managers.
3. The Court has also agreed that information regarding the companies and other funds in which the University’s endowments are invested should be published annually.
4. As a consequence of 2 and 3 above, it is possible for any group within the University to draw attention to any investment held by the University that is considered ‘unethical’. The Court has declared its willingness to consider such representations, subject to the following observations.
5. The key criterion against which specific cases would be considered would be whether the activity complained of (and substantiated) was wholly contrary to the University’s value systems either as reflected in the Mission Statement, the Goals and the Corporate Plan or in regard to wider issues of social, environmental and humanitarian concern. This would for example include, but not be limited to, human rights abuse, discrimination on grounds of race, gender or disability and serious and persistent environmental damage.
6. A possible approach could be for representations to be considered by the Court to the effect that the University should disinvest in categories of companies identified by reference to the businesses in which they are engaged. This has not been generally adopted, not least because the criteria for identification of such businesses would be matters of personal opinion. Rather, the adopted general approach is that expression of concern should be related to specific companies whose activities or values appear, on the basis of clear evidence, to be so far removed from the University’s core values as to give grounds for serious concern. Cases would normally only be considered if brought forward by representative bodies such as EUSA or a recognised trade union, or via the University’s committee structure. However, in 2004 a proposal that the University should disinvest in the tobacco industry was made, and was accepted by the Court as an exceptional case in view of the impact of that industry’s products’ on health, in the context of Edinburgh being a major centre of medical research.
7. The mechanism for considering such cases would be for them to be considered by the Central Management Group in the first instance. If brought forward by EUSA, the President would attend for discussion of that item. CMG would be expected to take into account the current extent (if any) of the Fund Managers’ engagement
with the relevant company on the matters complained of. It would be for CMG to decide, on Court’s delegated authority, whether they were sufficiently strong grounds to warrant engagement with the company through the mechanisms established by the Fund Managers where this was not already in hand, or to request strengthening of that engagement if already active.
8. CMG would be empowered to raise matters with the Trustees and Fund Managers without need for Finance and General Purposes Committee’s/Court’s endorsement. Its decisions in regard to whether to do so in individual cases, whether positive or negative, would be reported to the F&GPC and the Court. The Fund Managers would be asked to report back, giving clear details as to any action that had been taken, so ensuring accountability. CMG would communicate these matters to F&GPC and Court as appropriate.
9. It is acknowledged that a situation could arise in which ‘engagement’ did not assuage serious concerns raised about a particular company. In those circumstances it might be concluded by the Court that the Trustees should dis-invest. The Trustees would no doubt wish to make the financial consequences of such a decision clear to the Court.
10. CMG’s requests for engagement are normally be transmitted to the Fund Managers via the Trustees. However, because the Trustees only meet twice a year, it is possible to ask the Fund Manager’s Corporate Governance Unit to pursue a matter at fairly short notice (e.g. at a forthcoming company AGM). In such circumstances a request for engagement should be passed from CMG to the Convener of the Trustees who would communicate it to the Fund Managers after such consultation with the Trustees as was practicable in the circumstances.
M D Cornish
University secretary
Based on proposals adopted by the University Court in July 2003

Article in Edinburgh University Student newspaper

Edinburgh City Council is to consider copying the University of Edinburgh by implementing an ethical investment policy.

On Thursday, the council will vote on whether to adopt a set of checks and regulations regarding its investments around the world. The plan would see a ban on council money being used to support companies which damage the environment or infringe on human rights.

Many universities and councils have come under fire for putting profits ahead of ethics when choosing investments. In 2003 the University of Edinburgh bowed to pressure from environmental and human rights groups and introduced an ethical consultation procedure when considering investment opportunities.

In June the Edinburgh Green Society launched, an online blog dedicated to forcing the city council to review their policy. Student campaign leader Dariush Bazazi said: "Most councillors opposed the war in Iraq, yet freedom of information requests show that they are reaping the profits by investing in arms companies such as BAE Systems."

The movement gained support from groups such as Amnesty International and People & Planet as well as Edinburgh writer and Guardian journalist George Monbiot. Edinburgh City Council has significant investment in the arms manufacturer BAE systems, a company which is regularly attacked for its involvement with dubious political regimes.

Mr Monbiot said of the current situation: "At present, the council’s money is being used to underwrite the means by which large numbers of people are killed or mutilated. If I were drawing a council pension I would be extremely unhappy about the idea that my money was being squeezed out of other people’s blood."