Oxford students, staff, and residents marched through the city on Wednesday calling for specific colleges to divest millions of pounds from fossil fuels, arms and tobacco companies.
Protesters marched past colleges deemed to have the worst-offending investment portfolios, after a Cherwell investigation last week revealed over £150 million invested by Oxford colleges in offshore tax havens, as well as direct investments by New and Hertford in fossil fuels and arms corporations.
At Pembroke, Exeter and New colleges, protesters put up notices bearing the slogan, “Time is Up.”
The protest demanded full divestment, over a period of two years, from direct and indirect holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies as listed on Carbon Underground in the University’s endowment fund and in the funds of its colleges.
The protesters further demanded “an end to research partnerships with fossil fuel companies that have no plan to comply with the Paris Agreement”, and that the University “honour its ethical responsibilities by immediately terminating its investments in, and all institutional links with, companies and institutions – including Mitsubishi Electric and Rolls Royce – which produce arms and thus profit from exploitation, illegal wars and ongoing settler-colonisation abroad.”
Lastly, they demanded “an end to arms companies recruitment drives at Oxford”and “transparency” about relationships with arms companies.”
The march was organised by a coalition of student groups including the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC), Free Education Oxford, and Demilitarise Oxford, and coincided with the student network People & Planet’s National Day of Action for Divestment.
Oxford Climate Justice Campaign spokesperson Rachel Qiu said: “Climate change – and the natural disasters and critical impoverishment it causes – has created business opportunities for many unethical industries.
“These industries’ activities disproportionately impact the formerly colonised, the global working class, and communities of colour who are considered sacrificeable for profit.”
Chair of OCJC, Julia Peck, told Cherwell: “The fact of the matter is that about 60 universities in the UK have already divested from fossil fuels, and Oxford is lagging behind. So we are part of that National Day of Action; but, also, ours is a quite urgent situation, because Oxford has rejected calls for divestment whereas other universities have actually heeded those calls.”
Approximately 100 people took part in the march, which culminated at the Clarendon Building with rallies and speeches.
Demilitarise Oxford founder, Naomi Miall, told Cherwell: “For too long Oxford University has gone unchallenged on its role in the international arms trade.
“Today, students marched through the city to show that it is time for Oxford to end its contribution to oppression and violence – towards humans and towards the world we live in. The arms industry has a tight wrap on our University – shaping research directions, benefiting from investments and recruiting Oxford students.”
A New College spokesperson told Cherwell: “A discussion with the JCR over its concerns in relation to Cherwell’s recent reporting on colleges’ investments has commenced, with a view to any JCR proposals for updating the New College ethical investment policy and socially responsible investing policy being considered by the Endowment Committee and then by Governing Body in February.”
Associate Professor in Human Geography Dr Amber Murrey told Cherwell: “From an environmental justice perspective, we know that the risks and the benefits of extraction are highly uneven.
“Fossil fuel extraction, refinement, consumption and resulting climate changes affect communities and regions unequally. My research is with communities along the Chad-Cameroon Oil Pipeline, an area where we have seen the social fracturing and ecological degradations of crude oil extraction play out for over a decade in ways that harken back to colonial-era extraction.
“Student-led movements for divestment are important spaces for the critique of the uneven politics, economics and ecologies of profit and risk within the extractive industries. An important part of the movement at Oxford must also be creating a vision for an alternative – so that we’re not just critiquing environmental and racial injustices but also pushing for alternative energy sources, alternative economic arrangements, alternative employments and so forth.”
A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “In May 2015, responding to a Student Union request and following a wide-ranging consultation, Oxford University’s Council made a statement on fossil fuel investment which restricted investment in coal and tar sands.
“This statement remains the University’s position and all investment decisions are made in accordance with it. The Oxford Endowment Fund has low exposure to the energy sector and has actively sought to invest in groups targeting resource efficient companies.”