Concern over the morality of Oxford University’s investment in arms has this week resurfaced following an article published by the Oxford Anti-War Action Movement in journal The Lancet.
The article condemned University investments in “BAE systems, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and other arms manufacturers” that totalled an average of £4.5 million a year from 2008 to 2010.
The investment in Lockheed Martin in particular was singled out. In April 2010 the University held £1.4 million worth of shares in the US-based company which manufactures cluster munitions, which are illegal in the UK.
“Saying you have a socially responsible investment policy while investing in cluster bombs and depleted uranium is like telling the world you’re tee-total while embarking on a binge”, said Ashley Inglis on behalf of the Anti-War Movement.
But Inglis says that their protests are having the desired effect. She explained, “There has been an instant response to our comment in The Lancet: it has been picked up by various journals worldwide.
“We predicted that the University’s image, already tarnished by its investments in the arms trade, would suffer further deterioration if the Council chose last June to ignore its ethical responsibilities and refuse to divest from arms manufacturers. This is now happening.
“The word has gone out far and wide that Oxford University has no ethical standards whatsoever.”
The University has however stressed that it regulates its investments carefully.
A spokesperson stated, “The Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee is responsible for looking at these issues. The University invests in funds, not individual companies.
“In June 2010, the Council of the University of Oxford set a restriction on the Fund regarding the direct ownership of companies whose activities contravene the Landmines Act 1998 and the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010. OUEM Ltd reports compliance with this restriction regularly to the Investment Committee.”
However, the decision by the Council in June 2010 concluded that they would only monitor investments where they were “pooled” rather than “direct”.
Inglis argued that the social responsibility procedure is “not a policy but a procedure – a procedure for taking ethical concerns and passing them through a discussion process totally devoid of intellectual and moral rigour”, and highlighted the prominent role of companies such as BAE in selling arms to regimes such as Colonel Gaddaffi’s in Libya.
She added, “It’s time Oxford University showed some of the intelligence it’s supposed to be famous for, engaged seriously with this issue and divested from the arms trade.
“We will be writing to members of Council to draw their attention to our comment in The Lancet. Thereafter we are going to take this to Congregation, which represents the entire University, and which can force the Council to reconsider this deplorable situation”.
Student opinion seemed divided. Politics student Lauren Potter commented, “On the one hand arms investment can be beneficial to the security of our country and the protection of democracy and humanity.
“But when it is revealed that the University’s investments are supporting those such as Gaddaffi’s, a line has to be drawn. I don‘t want my money, even indirectly, to support such an immoral debacle.”