Students from the Fossil Free and BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) campaigns protested the University of Manchester’s Social Responsibility Awards held on the 11th of May
Around 15 activists from the Fossil Free and BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions) campaigns were protesting the Making a Difference Awards on the afternoon of May 11th.
Standing each side of the entrance to Whitworth Hall, the venue for the event, the members of BDS were waving the Palestinian flag and leading chants of “we will not rest until you divest” and “the students united will never be defeated”.
The awards are hosted to highlight values of social responsibility in the work that university staff and students do.
Fossil Free want the University of Manchester to withdraw its investments in fossil fuel companies to “demonstrate its commitment to its values, support scientific inquiry and demonstrate positive moral leadership”.
In 2015, Fossil Free research found that, as of April 2014, the University had £9,528,823 worth of shares in oil and gas companies, including £2,963,822 in Royal Dutch Shell and £2,735,859 in Rio Tinto. UK universities invest an estimated £5.2billion (over £2000 per student) annually in the fossil fuel industry.
In a press release on 3rd of May, the University Stated that the Board of Governors had decided to take serious action on divestment. Actions include: “Requiring Investment Managers to incorporate environmental, social and governance factors into their selection criteria when deciding where to invest” and, “committing to publish a quarterly snapshot of investment shareholdings on the corporate website.”
However, “the updated social responsibly policy is too vague and makes no solid commitment to divesting from fossil fuels,” said Lizzy Haughton, Ethical and Environmental Officer at University of Manchester Students’ Union. Calum Tyler, responsible for the University of Manchester Fossil Free campaign, said, “senior management and the Board of Governors seem not to be taking this commitment seriously.”
Sorcha Floyd, Campaigns and Citizenship Officer at the Students’ Union, said that the university “love talking the talk but they are refusing to walk the walk.”
11 UK universities have diverted from fossil fuels this year, including the University of St Andrews, Kings College London, University of Bristol and most recently, Queens University Belfast. With a total of 50 divestment commitments, over a third of UK universities have committed to break their ties to the fossil fuel industry.
When asked for a statement on the protest the University said they would not provide a further comment.
The two groups organised the divestment protest together. A BDS campaigner at the protest said that their goal is “for the university to cut all ties to Israel’s war crimes”.
The University of Manchester Students’ Union is one of the many UK Students’ Unions to pass support for the BDS campaign through the Students’ Union senate. The Charity Commission is currently investigating UK Students’ Unions support of the BDS movement amid claims of a rise in anti-Semitism.
During the event, University of Manchester Students’ Union General Secretary Naa Acquah joked that, “it wouldn’t be a social responsibility event without protesters outside.”