Jake Bugg at Brighton Dome
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Jake Bugg at Brighton Dome

Matthew Nicholls - April 19, 2018
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University’s ethical investment policy is ‘not divestment’

The University’s Council passed a ‘Socially Responsible Investment policy’ on 12th April, following a two-year lobbying effort by student-led group Fossil Free Sussex.

A new, ethical investment manager will be appointed as of August 2016, who will begin screening future investments.

Among other criteria, the fund manager will be asked to consider how the firms in which the they invest affect the “global environment, its climate and its biodiversity”.

However, the University’s press release makes no mention of purging its portfolio of the ‘unethical’ fossil fuel-related investments it currently holds, an omission which has led Students’ Union Society & Citizenship Officer Sarah Gibbons to say: “This policy is not divestment. We will continue to campaign…”

Annie Pickering, Fossil Free Sussex member, explained: “Real and complete divestment is when the University says they will not and cannot invest in oil, gas and coal companies, like they already do with tobacco and pornography.”

In addition, the new investment policy falls short of meeting Fossil Free Sussex’s second demand, stated on its petition which has been signed by over 1,200 people, that the University “actively commit to investing further in renewable energy”.

Instead, it only instructs the fund manager to blackball certain firms, and contains no positive obligations to invest in alternative energy-related stocks.

“Establishing protocols for onward investments can be complex, especially for organisations with a charitable status that need to see strong returns”, said the chair of the working group which reviewed the investment policy.

In spite of the inherent difficulties, the University was persuaded to make the change, following a dogged campaign by the student-led group Fossil Free Sussex – established in early 2014.

One high-up University staff member, Martin McCann, described witnessing a “collective passion towards the promotion of certain environmental, social and governance standards” on campus.

He said “[their activism] has resulted in a strong outcome for the University.”

Fossil Free Sussex member and PhD student Jack Miller thanked the University “for the time they’ve taken to consider” the group’s arguments, and for their “hard work”. He went on: “This alone will not suffice if Sussex is to show it is serious about its moral duty.”

President of the SU Abe Baldry, who sat on the working group which reviewed the policy change, said: “Working with the University to change its investment policy was a key objective for the Students’ Union this year.

“It’s an area that many students feel passionately about and I’m extremely pleased and proud that we’ve reached this important decision.”

Mark Tovey

Image source: Fossil Free Sussex Facebook

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