University of British Columbia students push school for ethical investments

Students at the University of British Columbia are calling on the school to make more investments. Kier Junos has more from a march on campus, and the students pushing the university to move away from fossil fuels and into ethical investments.

Students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) are calling on their school to make more responsible investments.

Students marched through the campus Friday with a message of divestment, calling out the university to move its investments away from fossil fuel companies, and other areas they say are affecting human rights.

“All of us at this university have a role to play in standing against this, and sending a clear message to UBC,” Mariam Abdelaziz, chair of the UBC Social Justice Centre, said to a crowd of students.

“We will not sit idly by while our university funds colonial violence, environmental destruction, and oppression.” 

Abdelaziz is part of a coalition of UBC student groups that calls itself the “divestment coalition.” Divestment generally means to move money away from certain investments for ethical reasons.

“We are calling on UBC to integrate a human rights criteria when considering their investments. They currently do not have one, and so they’re investing in a lot of companies that are complicit in human rights abuses,” Abdelaziz said.

But in a statement from UBC’s treasurer, Yale Loh says there are multiple factors at play that go into investments.

“UBC, through our investment manager UBC IMANT, does not invest directly in individual stocks or companies. Instead, UBC IMANT invests in pooled funds and selects external fund managers based on key criteria including risk, rate of return and adherence to environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles that largely mirror and are based on the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI),” Loh said.

“As a signatory, we follow the PRI principles of using influence, engagement and our position as a leader in ESG investing to push investment managers to carefully consider environmental, social and governance issues in their investment strategies and decision-making processes.”

“The university is aware of some community concerns around specific investments that are part of our pooled funds. We are constantly considering how we can better incorporate our ESG beliefs and principles within our investment pools, but it is crucial that we do so in conjunction with financial returns and risks on these investments.”

Loh adds the university “supports all of our community members to protest and advocate peacefully for causes that they feel strongly about.”

Adam Scott, executive director of Shift: Action for Pension Wealth and Planet Health, says that “institutions have huge influence with where they make investments.”

“The endowments of, say, a university, are often in the billions of dollars. So that has a huge systemic effect on our society and on our future as well,” Scott said.

“Where that capital gets invested really matters.” 

Matthew Cheeseman, organizer at the UBC Social Justice Centre, says choices “matter.”

“When a university…decides to make a financial decision like divestment, we really are showing a broader society that matters, especially to young people,” he said.

Ethical investment options are already available for individuals at some financial institutions, such as at VanCity.

“For our clients, our members, when they are investing based around their own values…they understand what those investments are doing to benefit not only themselves, but the broader community and globally,” Joe Reid, the vice president of Wealth Management and Impact Investing at VanCity, said.

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