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Photo : People and Planet Manchester @ photo sent in press release

Student activists occupy finance offices in protest of University fossil fuel investments

Student group, People and Planet UoM, have staged an occupation of the John Owens building in a bid to put pressure on the University to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. The protestors intend to continue their occupation until the University fully commit to the divestment of funds from fossil fuel companies.

Campaign group People & Planet moved into the building, which is home to the University’s finance team, on Tuesday morning. Around 16 students were involved in the protest, which they hope to continue for at least seven days.

They said staff initially attempted to stop them from entering the room, both through verbal warnings and by blocking access. People & Planet said the group had now split into two groups between the boardroom and the corridor. A tweet said some have no access to toilets and the university is not allowing food to be taken into the building.

In June, an occupation of Vice-Chancellor Nancy Rothwell’s office was cut short by the University’s management as protesters were denied access to food, water, and toilets. This time there are double the number of protesters and they have brought a week’s supply of food and the majority of the group have secured a location with a bathroom.

People and Planet says the university has around £12m tied up in fossil fuel companies. Last year The Mancunion discovered the portfolio included shares in BG Group, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Imperial Oil, REPSOL, Rio Tinto, and Exxon Mobil.

People & Planet has been pressuring the University for eight years through petitions, open letters, emails and lobbying outside meetings, but says there’s been little response from officials. In February protestors interrupted a governors’ meeting.

Speaking on their protest at the John Owens building, the students said: “We’re bringing this to their doorstep so that they can’t ignore us anymore. We’ve tried hard to engage with the University Officers and the Board of Governors, but they refuse to open a dialogue with us. If we’re sitting inside their offices, they don’t have that option.”

The protest has received support from groups across the Greater Manchester area including the Manchester branch of the University and College Union (UMUCU) and the Manchester Green Party.

Lucy Bannister, Green Party candidate for Manchester Withington and University of Manchester alumnus, said: “I am heartened to see the energy on this campaign, which started whilst I was a student[…] I am disappointed that the University has made little to no progress and has failed to act on this urgent issue.”

This is not the first time the University have refused to allow discussion with student-led campaign groups. A campaign to reimburse students’ tuition fees took place during a series of lecturer strikes in early 2018. During this campaign the University disabled its Facebook ratings and blocked certain users after students deliberately gave the institution poor ratings and reviews.

Earlier this semester the group sent the University an open letter asking for a dialogue to be started about divestment and warned collective action if the University remained unresponsive.

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We welcome the chance to meet with students as it long as it is through the appropriate Students’ Union representatives. We have offered to meet on that basis.

“The University recognises that students have a right to protest peacefully, providing that this does not unduly disrupt the conduct of the University’s normal business. However, by occupying the corridor and meeting room they are causing significant disruption.

“On the issue of divestment, our policy is clear and in the public domain as part of our Socially Responsible Investment Policy (SRIP). We no longer invest in companies with more than 5% of their revenue from thermal coal (the type of coal used in power plants) or oil sands (also known as tar sands).

“We sincerely hope that the students will accept our offer and we look forward to meeting them in due course.”

Tags: Campaign Against Climate Change, Climate change, climate protest, fossil fuel divestment, protest, university of manchester fossil fuels

Lucca Di Virgilio

Co-head Opinion editor
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