Oil, military supplies and HSBC: Uni’s £62.8m investment revealed

The University has purchased over £200,000 in shares in HSBC as part of a multi-million pound investment portfolio which includes several controversial businesses.

A Freedom of Information Request revealed that the University is a stakeholder in oil producers, a military equipment provider and companies at the centre of tax avoidance claims.

Figures obtained by The Gryphon from the end of July reveal the University’s total £62.8 million investment in a plethora of international businesses, including £1.8 million in major banks.

The University has also invested £243,581 in Ultra Electronics, an electronics manufacturer which sells military equipment including weapon-ejection systems for aircraft, rifle-mounted gunshot detectors and fire-control systems.

Other investments include the Daily Mail, Tesco and Vodafone, which came under fire for paying zero corporation tax in Britain in 2011.

The University also holds shares of £627,328 in BP, and has invested in the company since at least December 2000. The oil giant has been held responsible for several environmental disasters, and currently faces a maximum $13.7 billion fine for gross negligence after an exploding oil refinery killed eleven people and millions of barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The company has also been found guilty of committing fraud, environmental crimes and failing to correct safety hazards in a separate oil explosion in Texas in 2005.

A spokesperson for BP told this newspaper, ‘Leeds used to be one of our core universities until a couple of years ago. Leeds also received a share of the scholarship pot that all core universities of that era received’.

He added, ‘I believe we’re still funding a couple of masters degrees’.

Speaking to The Gryphon, a first-year Criminology student explained, ‘Morally, I believe it’s wrong that the University is investing money into a company that has caused such environmental damage in the past. A University should be promoting the importance of protecting the environment and something like this sends out the wrong message to students’.

A second-year Politics undergraduate said, ‘As a student who pays to attend this university, I’m both shocked and disappointed that we’ve been involved with a number of highly immoral companies’.

This newspaper reported last year that BP donated over £700,000 to the University between 2009 and 2012. It is not clear whether the donations have continued.

A spokesperson for LUU Amnesty International explained, ‘The University shouldn’t be investing in multinationals, regardless of size or scope. It compromises any ethical or moral position that the University or the Union takes on national or international affairs. Companies and industries that cannot be seen to operate cleanly and without social damage should be reconsidered for investment’.

Union Education Officer Tom Dixon said, ‘It’s a shame to see that students’ money is going towards companies which are obviously ethically unsound. I think it’s indicative of the sector that universities have to invest in unethical firms because the Government no longer sees universities as a priority’.

A University statement read, ‘The University and its advisers have a duty to our students, staff and stakeholders to maintain the financial health of the institution; one of the ways in which we do this is by investing through the Leeds University Endowment Fund. Our investments are informed by the University’s Policy of Socially Responsible Investment, which is overseen by the University Council. The Policy states that the Fund expects its investment managers to take account of social, environmental and ethical considerations when selecting investments’.

The Gryphon contacted HSBC and Ultra Electronics but they were unable to comment.

Charlotte Mason

Photo: Sam Broadley

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