Unethical investments are our responsibility too

Amy Provan 7 November 2013

Does Cambridge have a duty to invest its money ethically? Recent investigations into the investments of the University and its Colleges have criticised the ethical record of the companies in which they invest.

But Cambridge does needs funds to support its main purpose: education and world-class research. Cuts to government funding, strikes for higher pay and opposition to the increase in tuition fees have cut off many other sources of funding for the University. Ethical investments traditionally produce a lower return. On this basis Cambridge should maximise income from investments so as to pursue its mission. Why should staff payments, students’ bursaries, library books and vital research be constrained by ethical considerations? The University has a responsibility to ensure that the return on its investment is as high as possible.

Or so the argument goes. But Cambridge should invest ethically because part of the money they invest is received through our fees. Their investments represent our interests, and bad decisions by Cambridge reflect badly on us. I am not comfortable knowing that the books I use were purchased with profit generated from selling drones, or encouraging racial stereotyping in Thailand (the topic of Unilever’s latest controversy).

Cambridge is not alone in its responsibility to invest ethically – other companies should be criticised just as heavily for not doing so, but we are in a unique position as members of this university to change its practices.

Unethical investments also undermine Cambridge’s ethical mission. What is education for if not to create a more enlightened world? As students we want to be part of a university that leads the way in ethics, not a university that is pilloried for making a quick, dirty and dishonest profit.