Time to Come Clean – UCL Students Campaign for London’s Global University to Get Out of the Global Arms Trade

January 11, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

University College London (UCL) currently invests around £900,000 worth of shares in arms trader Cobham. When this news was revealed by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), UCL students were shocked that London’s global university had sold its global conscience for profit.

It took a bare minimum of research to discover that ethical investment brings equally good returns. The latest piece of evidence is a report by the United Nations and Mercer published in the Financial Times on 12 November 2007, which states that investing ethically does not hamper financial performance.

Even the conservative argument that there is nothing wrong with investing in a British arms company does not stack up as Cobham is a multi-national group of companies. Besides, British or not, there are a lot of reasons not to invest in the arms trade.

UCL alumnus Richard Wilson knows what it means to be at the receiving end of the international arms trade. His sister Charlotte was killed in Burundi in 2000 by Hutu militias. Her killers told her that she was dying because of “the white people supplying the weapons in Africa”.

Richard says: “By handing this company over £900,000 with which to do business, UCL is making itself complicit in that business, and its impact on the world. In producing components for military aircraft which are then sold to some of the most depraved regimes on the planet, Cobham is as responsible for the deaths that result as the people who produced the bullets that killed my sister.”

Students, staff and alumni are outraged by UCL’s unethical investment and campaign together to Disarm UCL. After campaigners presented Provost Malcolm Grant with over 1200 signatures opposing the arms investment the UCL Council in June 2007 decided to look into adopting an ethical investment policy.

Since then the Disarm UCL campaign has developed a proposal for an ethical investment policy at UCL and presented it to Lord Joel Joffe and Edwin Glasgow QC, who UCL has appointed to look into the issue. On the day of the last UCL Council meeting, members who had read the proposal said it looked “serious” and “professional”.

Despite this acknowledgement, the Council in their meeting on 5 December 2007 did not have the courage to ditch the unpopular shares in Cobham once and for all. UCL’s leadership has also not made the time frame for the development of an ethical investment policy clear or publicly available.

“It is such an amazing opportunity for UCL to be at the forefront of ethical investment of British universities. I hope that the process of developing the policy is made transparent and students are given the formal consultative role they deserve” says Sherina Peroos, the Ethics and Environment Officer at UCL Union.

UCL students and alumni are starting the new year with optimism. “Disarm UCL has achieved a lot so far”, says Craig Griffiths, one of the members of the campaign. “We’ll continue to keep up the pressure. 2008 might be the year when UCL sells its arms shares and adopts a proper ethical investment policy.”

Disarm UCL is liaising with other student campaigners across the UK and has set up a “Universities against the arms trade” network. They plan to share resources and swap experiences to campaign more effectively. If you are concerned about your university’s investments and want to get involved with the network please contact us at info@disarmucl.com. To find out more about other arms trade campaigns, you can visit www.caat.org.uk.


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This post was written by Sara Hall

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