An open letter to King’s College London Senior Executives
Firstly, we are proud to be part of King’s College London, a leading university in the elevation of knowledge, teaching in the service of society and a pioneer in research devoted to the betterment of human life. In particular, we would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on the creation of the Socially Responsible Investment Review Committee (SRIRC) in 2015. As students, academics and concerned members of society, we were delighted to see King's College committing to use its endowment funds to investing in clean energy and divesting from the most polluting fossil fuels. We also welcome the step that the College has taken to include student representatives in the 2016/17 SRIRC meetings that will bring together different stakeholders to fully deliberate the university's relationships with arms companies through its endowment-linked investments and academic research.
This letter outlines the passionate support from within the King’s community for demilitarising the university’s investments and its research. It is imperative that university acts on these issues at the earliest opportunity.
The Demilitarise King's campaign was formed at the start of this academic year and is led by students who wish to study in an institution that does not profit from international conflict and human oppression through its investments. Demilitarise King’s builds on a vibrant history of student activism at King’s, as many different groups have previously campaigned for full divestment from arms manufacturers and advocated that our research and teaching is used to promote peace and resolve conflict.
The primary message of the Demilitarise King’s campaign is as follows: i) we are concerned about the growing arms and military involvement in academia and ii) our investments send a message that arms manufacturers are legitimate companies with which to do business, despite the devastation caused by the arms trade. The main aim of this campaign is for King’s to divest its endowment-linked shareholdings from the top 100 arms-producing and military services companies ranked by sales ($370.7 billion in 2015).(1)
Through FOI requests and research on endowment funds conducted by students last year and with the help of the Fossil Free campaign, it was revealed that King’s has more than £1.5m invested in the arms trade, making us complicit in the business of repression and human suffering by profiting from the ties forged with arms manufactures and oppressive regimes.
Some of the main companies we are investing in are BAE Systems, Caterpillar Inc., Elbit Systems Ltd., General Electric, Hewlett-Packard Company, and many more. BAE Systems, the largest British arms company, produces drones, torpedoes, artillery and Tornado fighter-bombers which have been used in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, stock shares in BAE Systems saw gains of between one and two per cent the morning after the House of Commons agreed on the use of airstrikes in Syria.(2) The company derives 40% of their revenue from conventional and nuclear weapons and has a history of manufacturing depleted uranium weapons. Hewlett Packard is developing and maintaining the BASEL system which controls and restricts the freedom of movement of Palestinians.(3) Elbit's share price rose 6.1% in July 2014 after the Gaza massacre, forecasting fresh orders on the back of dead Palestinian children.(4) These arms manufacturers continuously export to oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia, who has recently admitted that it used UK-manufactured cluster bombs in Yemen.
The UK has been accused of breaking international law and contributing to the death of innocent people through these trades, and we want no part in this or to profit from this through our investments.(5)
Furthermore, the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), the national pension scheme for King's university staff, has been urged to cut its ties with Textron, a U.S. multinational arms firm that sells cluster bombs (internationally banned weapons that can inflict terrible injuries on civilian populations) and landmines. In addition to Textron, academics have also called on the USS to divest from other firms with links to controversial arms, including nuclear weapons, such as the UK-listed BAE Systems. 3286 USS members (including staff at KCL) have signed a petition, calling on USS to divest from armaments.(6)
As well as divestment, we as the King’s community, are calling on funding and connections made between academics departments and states/ministries that commit human right abuses and break international law to be stopped. Funding of research and staff from unethical companies such as BAE Systems must be put to an end, and ethical alternatives need to be sought. The Study War No More (Military Involvement in UK Universities) report, produced by Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the UK branch of the Fellowship for Reconciliation (FoR), states that “by subcontracting research to universities, which have world-class, publicly-funded staff and facilities, the military sector can keep overheads down and, in the case of military companies, profits up. The ease with which military organisations can influence university departments, through purchasing research and services and providing sponsorship, is indicative of the general trend towards commercialisation in higher education.” King’s College London is one of the universities whose military involvement and links with arms manufactures like BAE Systems is examined and criticised.(7)
The arms trade fuels war, potentiates racism and hostile borders, it creates and deepens poverty around the world and has devastating impacts on human rights and security, while damaging economic development. Large scale military procurement and arms exports only reinforce a militaristic approach to international problems.
Why King’s College needs to act:
If the purpose and values of King's College are to educate and promote skills and research to make the world a better place, why does our institution continue to invest millions of pounds in the companies which make the greatest contribution to the displacement, murder and destruction of human lives? If King's College is to represent itself as providing answers to 'world questions', we must work to actually address the systemic causes of global suffering and examine our own complicity in these practices.There is an urgent need to address the misalignment between the College’s 2029 strategic vision which is ‘to make the world a better place’ and its investments in arms companies who bear a central responsibility for the current catastrophic trajectory of international peace and conflict, as well as for the plight of refugees and a global environmental disaster. Indeed, agencies such as UNHCR (2001a: 283) have recently noted that “armed conflict is now the driving force behind most refugee flows”. The investments we make as individuals and institutions reflect what we expect the future to be, King’s should support a future world free of armed conflict by divesting from companies manufacturing weapons. The arms divestment movement has vast support - both globally and at King's College itself. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) sold in 2005 all its investments in arms companies. In 2006, Goldsmiths University agreed to drop its shares in companies involved in the arms trade. In 2009, UCL, previously the largest university investor in the arms trade in the U.K., sold its shares in Cobham plc (a maker of components for Hellfire missiles used in Iraq and Afghanistan) and has agreed to adopt ethical investment policies. In late 2010, Queen Mary University agreed to divest its arms shares.
Demilitarise King’s, backed by the KCL Students Union (KCLSU), has won widespread support from students, academics, societies, alumni, non-academic staff, as well as some notable external organisations like Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and People & Planet. This letter accompanies the delivery of our petition, signed by over 360 individuals within 10 days of being published.
Students at King’s have raised the issue of arms investment for over 10 years now, and the university has failed at making any progress in cutting connections with the arms trade. The emails of support post-Brexit and post-Trump demonstrate the College cares about the well-being of the diverse members of our community. These emails, however, fail to identify that the fuelling of racism and war that lead to the current hostile and harmful political environments are rooted in armed conflict and King’s is inadvertently playing a supportive role for this hostile environment by profiting from arms manufacturers.
This time we demand that King’s listens and takes action.-----------------------------------------------------------We the undersigned demand the following:
1. Transparency, Accountability and Democracy: all information regarding the link between the university and military organisations has to be publicly available and freely discussed;2. Full divestment: King's fully divests from ties with all arms manufactures that exacerbate conflict, support aggression and oppressive regimes, or undermine democracy. King's rejects future funding from projects with military sponsors and/ or with likely military applications, including the Ministry of Defence. This is to include connections and funding made between departments and faculties;3. The university to put pressure on USS until they commit to divest from armaments;4. King's seeks alternative work which provides civil benefits to society, for example, by increasing funding to 'conflict prevention' research which at the moment is negligible in comparison to that devoted to high technology warfare, or by helping to address social and/or environmental problems.
It is our sincere hope that you will agree to an open meeting with students and academics involved in Demilitarise King's, outside the context of the upcoming SRIRC meetings, by the beginning of February.
If no serious progress is made towards King's divesting, we shall be forced to seek alternative actions. In light of the loss of human lives and displacement of millions of people across the globe, this matter is of utmost urgency and should not be delayed. We demand military-free investment and research.
Yours sincerely,Demilitarise King’s
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References:1 - https://www.sipri.org/sites/default/files/The-SIPRI-Top-100-2015.pdf 2 - http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/syria-air-strikes-see-bae-systems-and-other-weapons-manufacturers-share-prices-spike-a6760641.html3 - http://www.massagainsthp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Mass-Against-HP.pdf 4 - http://www.whoprofits.org/content/elbit-systems-complicity-assault-gaza-2014 5 - https://www.caat.org.uk/resources/countries/saudi-arabia/legal-2016 6 - https://secure.shareaction.org/page/s/uss-weapons7 - https://www.studywarnomore.org.uk/documents/studywarnomore.pdf