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February 15, 2009

Whatever happened to Nuclear Disarmament

February 15, 2009

Think about Peace Campaigning, and you probably think of the Iraq war. Think back a few decades, and one movement above all will probably come to mind: the anti-Nuclear movement, characterised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of CND. Thousands of people, often risking arrest at military bases, and taking part in marches through London during the time of the cold war.

Move forwards to today, and we see a major shift in focus on which arms we want to get rid of. CND still exists, and does a stalwart job of opposing replacement of the Trident Nuclear Warhead system which remains in Britain’s control. But now people are taking more and more action against what are often referred to as “Conventional Weapons”. Why?

Nuclear Weapons will always have a big pull on the emotional heart-strings. Their capacity to bring about an apocalyptic end of human-kind is well documented, and still very much a threat. But look at the statistics: Wikipedia states “The bombs killed as many as 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 80,000 in Nagasaki by the end of 1945, roughly half on the days of the bombings.” Compare that to the million Rwandans killed with little more than knives, blunt objects and a very small cache of firearms. The fact is, the last 70 years have shown us what “Conventional Weapons” are capable of.

Yes, we’ve seen the gassing of the curds, the nuking of two cities and the use of disease in warfare. But what killed many times more people have been guns, bullets and various other forms of straightforward explosives. Nuclear Weapons might be capable of greater damage, but Conventional Weapons are actively doing vastly more. Focusing on Nuclear Weapons, however, lets the creators of conventional weapons off the hook, despite the death and destruction they are intrinsically part-responsible for.

In a sense, the obsession with Nuclear Weapons took people’s eyes off the real and present threat of other weapons. Weapons like those BAE is intrinsically tied up in. Experts on conflicts around the world will tell you that the proliferation of small arms, those guns which a single person can easily wield, are what make wars outside the developed world so very deadly. Mugabe has no need for a nuclear war-head in repressing the people of Zimbabwe, for instance.

In campaigning against conventional weapons, their distribution and proliferation, we will make a real impact. These might be the weapons which our army uses in Iraq, but all too easily they become the weapons used on our streets.

Perhaps the most galling of arms company examples I can give is Heckler and Koch. A small arms company, and makers of many well known hand weapons, their main UK warehouse is located on an industrial estate in Nottingham, a UK gun-crime hotspot. Next door is a church. Last year, it hosted the funeral of a high profile gun-crime victim. The weapon used could easily have passed through that very warehouse at sometime in the past.

Of course, BAE’s weapons systems aren’t the kind that falls into the hands of local gangs. But they are the kind that fall into the hands of thugs on a very different scale. Indonesia, for instance, or the human rights nightmare that is Saudi Arabia. The question must therefore remain, if we are to actively reduce the number of conflict deaths occuring across the world, to which weapons are our efforts best addressed. The anti-nuclear campaigns of the 60’s were right that Nuclear Weapons are capable of far greater damage. But right now, people are being killed by non-nuclear weapons, and the time to act against them is clearly now.

The Author, Graham Martin, campaigns on a range of issues for a more just world, including the Arms Trade, Palestine and Climate Change. He writes an opinion blog at least times a week called “Graham’s Grumbles“.

Campaign to Stop University of York Investment in the Arms Trade

February 11, 2009

Campaign to Stop University of York Investment in the Arms Trade

Campaign Mission Statement – To educate the university populous on the plight of child soldiers and to raise awareness of the harm caused by the arms industry.                                               

Proposal:

To stop the University of York investing in the arms trade and encourage the university to adopt an ethical investment policy for the future.

Outline:

   Conduct a relentless campaign to ensure the University of York stops all investment in the arms trade and adopts an ethical investment policy, culminating in a weekend long demonstration at the end of February.

The Campaign notes that:

  More than 2 years ago the University of York promised it would end all investments in BAE Systems and adopt an ethical investment policy, but the university hasn’t. Instead, since 2007 the University of York has increased their shareholdings in the arms company BAE Systems from £644,371 to £713,803. Total University shareholdings in arms companies amount to £997,342. The university pretty much just kicked the students in the face. It is therefore absolutely crucial to keep up the pressure, to ensure the university doesn’t back down a second time.  

   By paying our tuition fees we, the students, indirectly finance the University of York’s investment in the arms trade. As the UGM motion notes, students provide the University with a significant proportion of its income through fees. When we pay our tuition fees we become active members of the university, who should be allowed to have a say in where university money is spent, especially since a share of university income has come from students. No matter how small the financial contribution is individually, collectively students provide the university with a good proportion of its finance. Without students a university is pointless, we are its life blood, which is why ultimately we should be considered in any decisions on budget, investment and the general spending of university money. Students are the driving force of any university and should be considered active participants within the university. Universities exist to care for students, which is why universities should care what students think, we should have a say in its budget expenditure.

   Many students want to finally put an end to this abuse of interest, since investment in the arms trade is in direct conflict with student values and university principles (welfare and education, which should be extended to all, not just a fortunate few). The irony and hypocrisy of, on the one hand, educating, caring and cultivating a small and very privileged proportion of the world’s youth while, on the other hand, depriving, destroying and killing another portion of the world’s disadvantaged young is totally unacceptable. “This is completely hypocritical. The University is promoting peace-building in one area but fuelling war in another,” said Nicholls et al (Nouse quote).

  BAE Systems sell weapons to some of the most oppressive regimes in the world and was investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over alleged corruption in arms deals. The University has a moral responsibility to ensure that its investments do not negatively affect society or the environment. Continued university investment in the arms trade marks a serious neglect of this responsibility. Universities should invest in the development of ideas promoting peace and ethical practice not investing in the development of war and division; universities should not be in the business of death and destruction, but welfare and education.

   Machines of death (arms, guns, bombs, mines etc) are designed for one purpose only; to kill. Therefore, the production and distribution of arms is, in its very essence, a violation of human rights; the right to live free from fear and oppression. The arms trade violates these principles; by the University of York investing in the arms trade it is supporting the perpetuation of war, destruction and violence since arms continually contribute, inspire and inevitably lead to atrocities and abuses of human rights, like military oppression, prostitution and human trafficking, all over the world. In an exchange of misery, the arms trade deals weaponry for profit, selling arms which reach and destroy places peace keepers don’t visit any more.

   From the Caribbean slums and African streets where a passport is an American gun. From where they massacre people and try to keep it quiet, like in the cases of Regan’s bombing of Cambodia and Milosevic’s slaughter of Bosnian Muslims. From where the bombs that they use to drop on Vietnam still have children born deformed 8 months before their gone. From where Palestine children turn into kid soldiers and suicide bombers as they attempt to seek revenge, freedom and independence. All they way to the streets of London, where young teenagers, caught up in a gang culture, are caring guns for protection. These are the results of the arms industry; we should not support such institutions of war and terror by investing in companies that manufacture and trade machines of death and destruction.

  PLEASE JOIN THE CAMPAIGN TO STOP UNIVERSITY INVESTMENT IN THE ARMS TRADE: Uneconomical, corrupt, socially detrimental, why do it! Support the university in their adoption of an ethical investment policy, and know that YOUR tuition fees aren’t going to immoral industries but are supporting projects that are beneficial financially and socially. Make a stand, let people know the facts, raise awareness, be active! Please put up posters, give out flyers, and sign the petition. People unite, get involved and start the protest!

Speak out for those who have cannot be heard by showing your support for this campaign, together we can make a positive difference!!!

 

Aims and Objectives:

           A 1000 strong petition of student signatures to stop University of York investment in the arms industry.

          Pass a UGM motion through the University of York to stop investment in BAE systems and further investment in the arms trade with the formation of an ethical investment policy.

          Hold a discussion on university investment in the arms trade.

          Poster and flyer campaign around campus and town.

          Provide a visual focal display in the physics building highlighting the plight of child soldiers.

          A weekend long demonstration:

 

 20th t of February, Friday Afternoon – Amnesty International Protest to increase awareness on the issue of child soldiers. Hundreds of thousands of children as young as 8 have participated in 21 ongoing conflicts around the world, places like Uganda, Colombia, Rwanda and Russia. Technological advancements in the arms industry have allowed for younger and younger children to wield small arms. The University of York is financing the development of such weapons by investing in arms companies such as BAE systems (4th largest arms company).

21st of February, Saturday Night – HomeGrownSounds-NetWorkMusic presents an eclectic music event with conscious material under the banner “Stop University of York Investment in the Arms Trade”, to raise awareness of child soldiers and university investment in the arms industry, in aid of charity with all profits going to Kings World Trust for Children. In collaboration with Amnesty International, People and Planet, RAG, Breakz and Herbal Mafia plus more.

22nd of February, Sunday Evening – “Stop the University of York Investment in the Arms Trade” Jamming Session with HomeGrownSounds and SoulSpun, a free event open to all, where musicians of all forms can gather to turn the melody of thought into a freestyle musical session.  Tea, biscuits and all that other madness…

Petition: 

  By signing this petition we here by agree that the University of York’s investment in the arms trade is unacceptable and are united in our efforts to ensure the University of York adopts an ethical policy on investment. We, the students, insist that the University of York stops all investment in the arms trade, and in particular BAE Systems.

(If you’re interested in getting involved with the campaign or want more information please leave your email next to your signature)

Seconded by:

 

Our needs:

Contact media outlets, student newspapers and radio YUSU. Gain greater media coverage through national institutes.

Design and make flyers and posters for music event and jamming session!

Permission from the university to hold a protest on campus with school children on Friday the 20th of February.

Find a school that will allow the pupils to attend and participate in an activity day and protest on campus.

Organise a presentation and talk on the issues.

Hold a screening of relevant films, e.g ‘Lord of War’

 

Simon’s Letter

February 11, 2009

Dear Sir or Madam,

 

I write to you on behalf of the students of the University of York who are

organising a campaign opposing irresponsible investment by the University

in the arms trade. This campaign follows on from a campaign several years

ago, following the conclusion of which the University agreed to implement

an ethical investment policy which would see it withdraw from holding

shares in arms dealers and manufacturers. However the University has yet to

implement the drafted policy and over the past two years the University has

increased its holdings in arms companies by £350,000, demonstrating no

commitment to the policy agreed with students.

 

Of the nearly one million pounds the university has invested in the arms

trade over £700,000 is invested in BAE Systems which holds a notorious

record of corruption scandals and supplying weapons to regimes with abysmal

human rights records. In addition to this the University’s investment in

such companies seems to conflict with its stated commitment to the

“well-being of society” and its research in post-war reconstruction

studies.

 

Attached is a copy of an open letter expressing concern at the University’s

current share holdings and a call for the University to adopt an ethical

investment policy which would see that the University exists as a force for

good in the world, and that students and staff at the University of York do

not see portions of their tuition fees or pension funds going fuel world

conflicts or having derived from profiteering from those conflicts. We are

encouraging members of staff as well as student societies to sign this

letter, which will accompany a petition aimed at the broader student body.

If your union branch could sign this open letter your assistance and

solidarity would be greatly appreciated. Please could you also forward this

email to your members in the hope of demonstrating to the fullest degree

the opinion of the University staff on this issue.

 

Please send all signatures by email to sw577@york.ac.uk including your name

(individual or branch) and department/position (for individuals). Feel free

to contact me if you require further information.

 

Yours Faithfully,

Simon Whitten

 

THE UNIVERSITY OF YORK’S INVESTMENT IN THE ARMS INDUSTRY – AN OVERVIEW

February 11, 2009

Recent Developments

 

Students first became aware of the University of York’s investment in the arms industry when the UK-based organisation ‘Campaign against the Arms Trade’ (CAAT) released a detailed study on the financial connections between UK universities and arms companies in October 2005.[1] CAAT had obtained its figures through requests made directly to universities under the Freedom of Information Act. Students reacted immediately by passing a motion confirming the Students’ Union’s support for an Ethical Investment Policy in December 2005.[2] In May 2006, following protest actions by students, the Vice-Chancellor’s Advisory Group established a working group aimed at drafting a proposal for an ethical investment policy in collaboration with students.[3] Yet until now (i.e. February 2009), the University Council has ignored the efforts of the working group, which last met in June 2007. In fact, recent figures released by CAAT show that the University has even increased its shareholdings in BAE systems from £644,371 to £713,803 in the past year.[4] As a result, in December 2008, the Students’ Union passed a second motion calling upon the University to resume its collaboration with students to draw up an ethical investment policy.[5]

 

Details on Arms shares

 

The £713,803 worth of shares the University currently has in BAE systems are held in the Pension Scheme, which provides for the pensions of all full- and part-time employees in Grades 1 – 5[6]. Taken together with the £283,539 worth of shares held in Rolls Royce, the University invests a total of at least £997,342 in the arms industry.[7] This makes York the fourth biggest university investor in the arms trade after Liverpool, Cambridge and Oxford.[8] However, according to the data obtained by CAAT, arms shares amount only to 0.3% of the University’s total assets of £320 million. Therefore, these shares can in no way be referred to as crucial to the financial success of the Pension Fund.

 

The only ethical guideline the University currently instructs its trustees to follow in is that of avoiding investment in tobacco companies, on the grounds that this would conflict with its scientific and medical research. Other than that, ethical considerations are not taken into account.

 

Legal Background

 

Concerns have been voiced that trustees are obliged by law to seek the maximisation of profits for the funds entrusted to them. However, this explicitly does not apply to charities. In fact, Charity Commission regulations (2001) state, ”trustees of a charity should decline to invest in a particular company if it carries out activities which are directly contrary to the charity’s purposes.”  Amongst other precedents from law and government recommendations, the Goode Committee on Pension Law Reform concluded “Trustees…are perfectly entitled to have a policy on ethical investment and pursue that policy.”[9]

 

As part of their adoption of an ethical investment policy in 2006, the University of St. Andrews’s Director of Finance has published a report investigating whether ethical guidelines for university  investment are constrained by Trustee Law. The report came to the conclusion that “that there is no legal limitation that would prevent [the university] from adopting a Sustainable Investment Strategy as long as it retained a prudent view of the ongoing and proper purpose of the Funds.”[10]

 


[1]    http://www.caat.org.uk/press/archive.php?url=211005prs (Campaign against the Arms Trade, accessed  6 February 2009).

[2]    http://www.yusu.org/union/motion/25 (York University Stundents’ Union, accessed 9 February 2009).

[3]    http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~socs203/ (People and Planet York University, accesed 6 February 2009).

[4]    http://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/universities/data/yorks_and_humber.php (Campaign against the Arms Trade, accessed 6 February 2009).

[5]    http://www.yusu.org/union/motion/190 (York University Students’ Union, accessed 9 February 2009).

[6]    http://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/resources/policy/york_pension.htm (University of York, accessed 6 February 2009).

[7]    http://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/universities/data/yorks_and_humber.php (Campaign against the Arms Trade, accessed 6 February 2009). The University has confirmed that, outside of its Pension Scheme, it invests in M&G Charifund Units, which have holdings in GKN Group. However, no further details were provided to CAAT.

[8]    http://www.nouse.co.uk/2008/11/25/university-investment-in-arms-trade-increases (Nouse Student Newspaper, accessed 9 February 2009).

[9]    http://www.caat.org.uk/campaigns/universities/FAQ.php (Campaign against the Arms Trade, accessed 6 February 2009).

[10]  http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/~oneworld/old/investment/files/LegalFramework.pdf (University of St. Andrews, accessed 6 February 2009).

Open Letter

February 11, 2009

We, the signatories of this letter,

 

refuse to accept that the University of York uses the capital associated with our names, tuition fees and intellectual efforts to invest in companies that are actively involved in the arms trade. We believe that this defies the university’s explicit commitment to the ‘application of knowledge for the health, wealth and well-being of society’[1] in general, and the financial and intellectual efforts put into peace-building, development and human rights research in particular.

 

As we assert the increasing interlinked nature of today’s societies, we are convinced that any gain an institution or society might have from supporting the arms trade can only be temporary. In the long term, it will decrease not only the stability and quality of the life of those societies directly subjected to the force of arms, but also that of our own lives and communities. Therefore, we call upon the University of York to end the irony of rewarding lecturers’ lifelong efforts to teach students the values of justice, tolerance and intellectual scrutiny by paying their pensions off shares held in the arms industry.

The University of York currently holds £713,803 worth of shares in the ‘defence’ company BAE systems, while total University shareholdings in arms companies amount to £997,342[2]. BAE systems is the world’s fourth largest arms manufacturer. It is known to sell weapons to regimes with a record of extensive human rights abuses, produces central components for nuclear weapons and has been involved in numerous corruption scandals since its creation in 1999[3].

Students have been protesting against the university’s investment policy for more than three years. Despite the university’s agreement to draft an ethical investment policy in collaboration with students, however, proposed changes have yet to be implemented. Instead of encouraging student responsibility by taking their concerns and work seriously, the university has followed a contrary path and increased its shareholdings in BAE systems since 2007 by almost  £70,000. This makes York the fourth biggest university investor in the UK.

 

We urge the university to resume its collaboration with students to finalise and implement an ethical investment policy. It is our belief that universities have a unique moral responsibility as educational institutions, which overrides their pursuit of maximum profit as businesses. Furthermore, academic research has demonstrated that ethical investment funds can perform as well as, and sometimes better than, ordinary investment funds. As members of an international university that promotes research in all parts of the world, it is our strongest conviction that our pursuit of academic excellence need not and must not rely on the profits obtained through the endangerment of other members of our global community. Their losses are not our gains – they are much rather the continued evidence of our failure to use the vast resources of knowledge available to us to make more informed, ethical choices, which could contribute to a more stable and just world.


[1]                 University of York Corporate Plan 2005 – 2009, Section 1.2.1.

Welcome All

February 11, 2009

Hi Guys,

Thank you for getting involved. The basic mission statement of this blog is simple: stop the university’s investment in arms and get them to employ an ethical-investment policy.

How we acheive this is a very different matter.

All forms of expression can make the point and the more mediums that our arguments and sentiments can be expressed through, the better.

We shall acheive our goals and all of our objectives, thoughts and ideas will now be articulated.

It’s time we were heard.

Feel free to post anything.