Smokes, Booze And War: QUB’s Ethical Investments

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Photo: Vanessa Elizabeth Humphrey

Niall Coleman, Deputy Editor

Student activism and protest has appeared to enjoy a healthy resurgence on the campus of Queen’s University. In recent months, UCU members planned to picket the Lanyon Gates in response to the University’s imposition of academic standards and unexpected adjustment to staff probationary periods. Fossil fuel divestment protests were to attract media headlines following the days of “direct action” seen in events such as the much followed “#Occupy QUB” campaign which saw a number of divestment campaigners occupy the University’s Administration Building.

Indeed, much protest has surrounded the nature of the University’s Investments. Up to this point, the priority of such focus has surrounded the fossil fuel industry and QUB’s investments in corporations such as Shell and BP. However, further investments which fundamentally contradict the University’s “Ethical Investment Policy” – including heat-seeking missiles, attack drones, tobacco and alcohol.

An Investment Research Report compiled by Fossil Free activists, sheds further light on the unethical investment practices of Queen’s University. An examination of the data shown in the report reflects a large variety of investments held by the University in a range of corporations, from tax-evading bank HSBC to pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline. It is perhaps the University’s investments in the industries of tobacco, alcohol and warfare, however, which raise potential questions about the consistency of the University’s commitment to cancer research and conflict resolution and reconciliation.

The most notable amongst the corporations invested in by Queen’s University include Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Diageo and British American Tobacco. Whilst the exact sums invested by the University in these corporations is unclear, a brief investigation of these companies reveal a range of controversies, including tax evasion, fraud and human rights infringements in American prisons.

At this point, Lockheed Martin stands as one of the world’s largest companies in the aerospace, defense, security, and technologies industries. In the fiscal year 2014 a vast majority of Lockheed Martin’s revenues came from military sales, topping the list of US federal government contractors and receiving nearly 10% of the funds paid out by the Pentagon. Products of the Lockheed Martin group include the Trident missile, the P-3 Orion, the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F22-Raptor. Aside from warheads and fighter jets, the company has a large degree of involvement in information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Pentagon. Notably, the share prices of Europe’s largest weapons manufacturers have dramatically risen following the UK’s decision to join the 15 month-old bombing campaign in Syria – BAE Systems jumped four points at start of trading, just hours after its Tornado jets left UK bases in Cyprus to bomb Omar oilfields.

The University’s investments in the Raytheon group, the largest provider of heat-seeking missiles in the globe raise further questions about Queen’s commitment to conflict resolution. In recent years the corporation has attracted controversy following its partnership with a jail in Castaic, California to use prisoners as test subjects for the new non-lethal Silent Guardian active denial system that according to Raytheon “penetrates about a 64th of an inch under your skin… so it’s what it would feel like if you just opened up the doors of a blast furnace”.

Queen’s University’s commitment to conflict transformation and reconciliation is fundamentally contradicted whilst it holds significant investments in warfare. Director of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Professor Hastings Donnan addressed prospective students online, stating “Given the unique history of conflict and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, researchers at Queen’s are well-placed to offer a unique perspective on many of today’s difficult research challenges, both in Ireland and across the globe”. The words of Professor Donnan contrast with incoming Students Union President Sean Fearon, who reacted with concern at the nature of QUB’s investments:

“Queen’s University Belfast is a seat of learning, with a particular academic focus on cancer research, peace and reconciliation and carbon management. It is, therefore, reprehensible that taxpayer money should be channelled by our university into the pockets of arms dealers and investing in the primary cause of cancer here: tobacco and alcohol”. When pressed on what stance the Students’ Union will take on the issue of unethical investments, Fearon stated “The University completed an extraordinarily lengthy ethical investment policy review process on 21st June 2016. The actions taken by the University then will determine the response of the Students’ Union. A decision to do nothing about these investments, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry, will be an insult to the staff, students, alumni, faith groups, charities, NGOs and political parties, and the Students’ Union will act accordingly”

Queen’s University were unavailable to comment.

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