Climate activists are concerned about “greenwashing” as Oxford University accepts a £100m donation from petrochemicals company Ineos, in order to build a new research institute to fight antimicrobial resistance. 

The University published a statement on January 19th detailing its plans for the Ineos Oxford Institute for AMR research (IOI), which it states will research bacterial resistance and design new antimicrobial drugs. Its main aim is to tackle antimicrobial resistance, caused by overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which it states “is arguably the greatest economic and healthcare challenge facing the world post-Covid.”

However, there are concerns that in accepting the donation from INEOS, Oxford University is helping ‘clear’ the company’s name, as it is increasingly scrutinised in terms of its impact upon the climate. INEOS is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of chemicals and oil products, including the production of solvents, biofuels, plastics, synthetic oils and insulation materials. 

A statement from the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC), seen by Cherwell, states: “Though the benefits of these research facilities cannot be denied, this is a clear example of greenwashing: INEOS is an environmentally damaging organisation, involved in drilling and petrochemical production, but thanks to this donation it can parade an ethical donation front.”

The statement continues: “Investing in wholly unrelated fields is not new to INEOS: the British-owned chemical giant owns the former Tour de France Group Sky and funded Eliud Chipchoge’s successful attempt to beat the 2 hour marathon. This donation is part of a strategy aimed at distracting from their appalling environmental and ethical record.” 

A spokesperson from Oxford University told Cherwell: “As with all donations to the University, INEOS has been approved by our rigorous due diligence procedures which consider ethical, legal, financial and reputational issues. All decisions about funding are made by the University’s Committee to Review Donations. These decisions are made in confidence and on their own merits and without consideration of, or reference to, any other University donors or any outside party.”

report published last year revealed that Ineos’ manufacturing plant in Grangemouth, Scotland was by far the nation’s largest polluter. Moreover, Ineos’ CEO Sir Jim Ratcliffe is a vocal critic of the UK government’s anti-fracking legislation. Earlier last year, he said: “The government’s position is unworkable and unhelpful… We have a non-existent energy strategy and are heading towards an energy crisis that will do long-term and irreparable damage to the economy and the government needs to decide whether they are finally going to put the country first and develop a workable UK onshore gas industry.”

A spokesperson from Ineos told Cherwell: “On the Grangemouth emission claim, the site is energy intensive and is, by far, Scotland’s largest manufacturing site.  It represents 4% of Scottish GDP so the claim that it has the highest emissions in Scotland is related entirely to the fact that it is Scotland’s largest manufacturing site.” The firm’s response also stated: “INEOS has no fracking activity. The company has licenses in the UK but has never progressed beyond the stage of geological survey and is unlikely to do so given the government moratorium on fracking.” 

This is not the first time that the University has come under scrutiny for accepting donations from controversial donors. These last two years have seen criticism regarding Oxford’s decision to accept a donation from Stephen Schwarzman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone, an investment firm, to build a new humanities centre. 

An open letter penned by academics and students, published in 2019, stated: “The “Schwarzman Centre” will be built with the proceeds of the exploitation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable people across the world…Recent controversies surrounding donations by the Sackler Family and Jeffrey Epstein have shown how institutions that have ignored the concerns of their members have gone on, deservedly, to suffer significant damage to their reputations. We believe Oxford is leaving itself open to such future damage.”

OCJC’s statement included a reminder that “campaign groups such as Oxford Against Schwarzman and Disarm Oxford, as well as OCJC have long been calling for greater transparency from the University’s Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding.” It continued: “Safely severing financial ties with fossil fuel companies cannot happen overnight, but we believe that with due consultation, thought, effort and prioritisation it can and should happen in the very near future”. 

The University spokesperson told Cherwell: “We have very clear policies when accepting gifts that they should not influence academic freedom or content and this gift is no exception. The agenda for research will be determined by our academics at all times. INEOS will naturally very interested in the research and the changes it can bring about and we will be updating them regularly on progress.”

Image: Paul McIlroy / Petrochemical plant / CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


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