Spring clean your investments – Protests outside Senate House

Amy Provan 19 March 2014

This morning protestors gathered outside a meeting of Cambridge’s Guild of Benefactors demanding the University ‘spring clean’ its investment policy. Six people held a banner and handed out flyers attached to flowers to passers-by and donors entering their meeting.

It has recently been revealed that Dmitry Firtash, a member of the guild, has been arrested on charges of bribery and corruption.

The student group Positive Investment Cambridge believe this arrest “highlights the lack of any explicit guidelines on ethics and responsibility that govern how the University’s makes investment and receives donations”.

The Cambridge Student has previously revealed the University to have accepted benefactions from Shell and Gazprom, a move that was condemned by Greenpeace UK for allowing these morally dubious companies to buy “social capital” and “respectable allies which they expect to need”.

The University has defended their benefactions, pointing to their “explicit processes for the handling and vetting all benefactions, including published ethical guidelines on the acceptance of donations”.

Daniel, one of the protestors and Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) officers, admits that, “There are principles in place, but the problem is stringency”.

“The problem with benefactions is how they are used to cloak the agenda of the person who is giving that money, or is used towards some sort of research that disrupts academic freedom.”

He pointed to the Dow Chemical foundation’s funding of Chemical Engineering projects, and a Chinese NGO that funds a post in the Politics Department publishing papers sympathetic to Chinese policies.

Jonas, another of the SRIs, also thinks: “The university doesn’t have a good enough vetting process.

“Dmitry financing Ukranian studies, and having a one-sided political stand is quite risky, because it might influence the way our education works… They don’t have any criteria on moral grounds.”

Although this was a small protest, Jonas is optimistic that “the campaign is growing”.

The Positive Investment Campaign demands the University: "Adopt an explicit Policy on Responsible Investment that ensures that they do not invest in companies that a majority of the university members consider to be unethical, allow enough transparency for each university member to judge the state of the responsible investment practices themselves, and implement mechanisms to raise concerns that will lead to a change in investment practices if shared by enough university members."