Divestment From The Arms Trade

It is a crisp, Summer’s day in Glasgow. The leaves are bright green, sun glimmers over the West End which sen makes the Boyd Orr look pretty. It’s the perfect conditions for an Open Day – the University of Glasgow’s chance to win over budding new students, fresh out of school and eagerly awaiting what courses Glasgow has to offer them. It’s this precise moment in time the University’s latest advertising campaign flourishes. The striking teal tote bags move through the crowds on Byres Road, an ocean of ‘potential world changers’. ‘Enrol in this University!’ Glasgow exclaims, ‘Let’s change the world!”

Looking at Glasgow’s track record, what I want to know is if the University is changing this world for the better. On the surface it appears to be. In 2014, the Glasgow University Climate Action society (GUCA) after a hard fought campaign of over 12 months successfully managed to get the University to divest their £18 million from the fossil fuel industry. It was a momentous win – showing the power of student activism and confirming that with enough students involved, the case can make national press and eventually the University will be pressured into changing their laws. However, within the small print of this action Glasgow states that the period of divestment will take place over the next 10 years and there will also be biannual reviews on how well this financially benefits the Uni (I’ll give you the short answer: it doesn’t).

More shockingly than the ambiguity surrounding the University’s divestment from fossil fuels is the knowledge that our University currently invests into arms manufacturing companies. Looking at the annual lists of investments for the year 2014-15, Glasgow has invested £1.4 million in arms dealers and arms manufacturing companies which is in direct opposition to the University’s policy on Socially Responsible Investment (SRI). The University’s SRI is very easy to access online with the University stating it does actually avoid investing in Bad Things, such as the tobacco industry, ‘an investment [which] runs entirely counter to the University’s direct interests in research.’ So why is the University investing into the arms trade?

For those who are not aware exactly what the arms trade is, here is a very quick explanation. First and foremost, the arms trade is a business. It is there to provide and sell weapons to those who can afford them. Statistics from Amnesty International’s website states that the value of international trade in conventional weapons is estimated to be $100 billion USD annually. The University has a small, but nevertheless substantial, investment in companies involved in the arms trade – each one selling weapons funding more and more wars. An example being cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, who are then using those bombs to commit humanitarian war crimes in Yemen.

In 2016, the University invited at least three of those companies it held investments in (BAE Systems, Cobham PLC, and QinetiQ) to their Internship Fair. Now it’s up to your morals whether or not you get an internship in one of these companies, but let’s just say you’re off my Christmas card list. BAE systems is probably the worst of these three – with failures to observe policy on arms restrictions, support of conflict and human rights abuses as well as charges of corruption, 257 million damages were paid to the US and 30 million to the UK.

However, the University of Glasgow has failed to acknowledge the fact this is in direct contradiction to their SRI policy. According to the University appeals can be made to rectify this horrendous investment, the guidelines state ‘[investments] wholly contrary to the University’s value systems either as reflected in the Mission Statement or the Strategic Plan or in regard to wider issues of social, environmental and humanitarian concern.’ Glasgow University’s Amnesty International society are planning to do just that. We’re launching our campaign soon to demand the University adhere’s to their SRI policy and full divestment from companies directly involved in armed conflict.

At present, the University has a serious problem with commitment. It delighted in being the first University in Europe to begin divestment from the fossil fuels industry but has since realised no clear evidence of having done so. And now it’s investing millions into the Arms Trade worldwide. And yet we as students are expected to pay into this hypocrisy of becoming ‘A World Changer’. ‘What will you become?’ Glasgow University ponders, all the while having no transparency across campus – the faceless institution is a money making machine, with your degree stuffed into a blue tote bag.

However, with enough awareness, enough campaigning, and enough drive students can replicate what happened in 2014 and change the University’s perspective. With widespread media attention, pressure can be put on the University. GUAI and multiple societies on campus are ready to start campaigning but we need the whole student body to be aware of the University they are buying into. It is an institution with ‘World Changer’ status, but it’s not changing the world for the better.

[Emma McKie]


  1. I would like to start of be involved in a protest to persuade University of Glasgow to boycott the arms dealers. Do you have any plans yet for this?

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