University of Leeds Accused of Investing in Companies with Alleged Links to Human Rights Abuses

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University of Leeds Accused of Investing in Companies with Alleged Links to Human Rights Abuses

The University reportedly invested over £2,000,000 in companies that are accused of being linked to the implementation of human rights abuses against Palestinians.

An Open Letter from LUU Palestine Solidarity Group (PSG) to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Leeds has criticised the University, accusing it of investing a significant sum, which may include funds derived from students’ tuition fees, on “business activity which enables Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.”

The letter, which has received 469 signatures as of 19:01pm Thursday 1st November, makes the claim that its findings contradict the University of Leeds’ Ethical Investment Policy, which acknowledges that the University and its investment managers “have a commitment to ensuring that companies in which it invests adopt high ethical standards and responsible attitudes.”

The letter identifies that, as of its valuation on the 31st July 2018, the University invested £1,299,369 in HSBC, £194,883 in Airbus, £735,012 in United Technologies Corporation, and £123,299 in Keyence Corporation. PSG believe, and allege in the open letter, that all these companies can be linked to actions committed by the State of Israel which are accused of “breaking international law and breaching the UN Declaration of Human Rights.”

Image: Financial Times

The letter suggests that these companies “are directly linked in the implementation of […] human rights abuses” and that, therefore, “the University of Leeds knowingly enables this activity by investing in these companies.”

In response to the Open Letter, a University spokesperson said:

“The University of Leeds’ endowment portfolio is managed by Sarasin & Partners who, as part of their normal investment research and analysis process, take account of social, environmental and ethical considerations in the selection of investments.

“We have recently adopted a climate active strategy, the purpose of which is to drive behavioural change supporting decarbonisation via a combination of divestments and engagement and as a result have divested of our holdings in Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence Corporation which were all held indirectly in a Global Equities Fund.

“The University Council agreed to adopt a climate active strategy on 31 May 2018 and the University has been implementing this over the last four months. Core funds which included indirect investments in Airbus, United Technologies, and Keyence Corporation were sold on the 15 October 2018.”

News of the University’s divestments has come since the publishing of their recent Investment Portfolio on the 31st July 2018. This information was not known by PSG when the Open Letter was originally published.

To support their accusations against the University of Leeds, PSG’s letter refers to the Summer of 2014, where over 2,000 Palestinians were killed as a result of conflict during Operation Protective Edge. The letter alleges that:

  •  Elements of the artillery used to carry out the destruction of 17 hospitals and 89,000 homes were provided by Elbit Systems, one of the many aerospace companies which HSBC holds shares in.
  • The fighter jets employed by the IDF were maintained by United Technologies Corporation.
  • The helicopters which patrolled Gaza’s sea border were supplied by Airbus.

Further military activity, unspecified in the letter, is alleged to have been aided by equipment provided by Keyence Corporation.

The Open Letter, and its comments concerning the State of Israel, are not without controversy. Ipsos Mori polling found that 93% of British Jews say that Israel is a strong part of their identity and, with over 1000 Jewish students studying in Leeds, many have approached the Jewish society with their concerns over the Open Letter.

In spite of this, the letter asks the Vice Chancellor to “immediately divest from the above four companies” and to “adopt a stronger screening policy which excludes investment in any company involved in the human rights abuses of Palestinians.”

With the University having divested their holdings in Airbus, United Technologies and Keyence Corporation, a spokesperson further commented:

“There are no direct investment in armament companies but our investment managers continue to monitor the HSBC position and are in dialogue to understand investments in this area.”

21 members of the University’s Staff have signed the letter, as well as 381 current students and 49 Leeds alumni. The letter has also been signed by a number of LUU societies, including LUU Amnesty International and LUU Student Action for Refugees. However, it is unclear whether all society members were democratically consulted before their societies signed the letter, an issue which LUU are investigating further.

LUU Palestine Group have stated that the Open Letter will be presented to the Vice Chancellor at the end of November.

The Vice-Chancellor will respond to the letter once it has been received.

Click here to read the Open Letter in full.

If you have been affected any of the content in this article, and would like voice your own opinion, then please email any responses to editor@thegryphon.co.uk.

There will be a space in next week’s issue of The Gryphon, distributed 9th November 2018, for an open and safe dialogue.

Robbie Cairns