Jesus College climate group adds racial justice and animal agriculture to divestment demands
A four-month investigation by the Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign (JCCJC) – including the use of Freedom of Information requests – has concluded that the University of Cambridge college has at least £5.15m invested in what the JCCJC describe as “the absolute worst-offending global exploiters and polluters”.
The JCCJC has widened its aim: it intends to illuminate the entire web of financial practices that underpin all the global warming industries. Its report, titled ‘Investing in Exploitation and Extinction: Why Climate Justice Demands that Jesus College goes Beyond Divestment’, cites “ecologically and socially destructive practices” within Jesus College’s portfolio – “industries which would be ignored by conventional divestment policies which focus narrowly on fossil fuel companies”.
These include major polluting industries such as mass animal agriculture, those engaged in deforestation and biodiversity destruction, plus “companies with appalling records of human rights exploitation, infringements on their workers’ rights and modern slavery”.
Anything less than full severance from all mechanisms of planetary ruin, says the ground-breaking study, is “totally inadequate for dealing with the full scope of the climate emergency we face” as it “fails to address those non-fossil fuel industries which are also fuelling the collapse of our planetary life support systems, building their profits on the back of the exploitation of people and planet”.
In addition, the student-based campaign group demands that Jesus College leave its current asset manager, Cazenove Capital, a division of the Schroders group. This is due to Schroders’ “abysmal” voting record on climate and social resolutions, “voting against more than a third of these resolutions in 2020”. Jesus College is estimated to currently invest approximately £46m via Cazenove Capital.
The authors claim to have uncovered £807,000 invested by Jesus College in fossil fuel companies, including a £27,892.12 investment in JP Morgan, the world’s fifth-largest investment bank. JP Morgan is the largest global financier of fossil fuels, having funnelled $268.593bn between 2016 (when the Paris Climate Agreement was signed) and 2019 into fossil fuel extraction projects.
“The efficacy of divestment from ecocidal and socially immiserating industries is significantly undermined by remaining with an investment manager that is a clear industry laggard in the area of environmental and social responsibility,” say the authors in the report which was unveiled today (April 20, 2021). The authors look beyond divestment from fossil fuels to ensure that all the University’s investments “maximise the positive, reparative impact its capital could have in repairing the damage that its years of financial support for ecocidal and socially immiserating industries have helped to produce”.
Harvey Brown, a writer of the report, said: “Divestment is not good enough. The College has a £46m private investment portfolio and it is currently using it to legitimise industries which are destroying the planet and exploiting its people.
“We wrote this report because we know the college can actively use its wealth for the good of the community and the planet. Swapping stocks while the world burns, even if these stocks are in more sustainable ventures, is a low-impact form of investment, and is just the sort of half-measure that is coming to characterise inadequate institutional responses to the climate emergency across the world.
“We need to help break this cycle and put our shoulder to the wheel by making the sorts of bold, high-impact wealth management decisions that this crisis demands: our report explains exactly how we get there.”
“The divestment announcements we’ve seen so far from other colleges are an important start, but we need to do more. Colleges have to acknowledge the root cause of the climate crisis which is the global exploitation of people and planet for short-term profit. We can, and we must, stop investing in exploitation and extinction and start investing in a just future.”
The “global exploitation of people” refers not just to the present time, it also addresses the issues raised by the donations the College received from slave-trader and Jesus College alumnus Tobias Rustat, 1606-1694. The College has made the decision – welcomed by the JCCJC – to apply to remove a memorial to Rustat, currently on display in the College’s chapel, in order to begin to reckon with its colonial history.
“However,” note the authors, “not only is Jesus College’s wealth partially built on the suffering of enslaved and colonised peoples, it is also continuing to be enhanced by industries that rely on processes of exploitation and extraction along racial and colonial lines. For this reason, the report takes racial justice and climate justice as inseparable projects, arguing that climate justice must be a key plank of its Legacies of Slavery Working Party’s mission and central to any Responsible Investment Policy.”
The college is currently developing a new ‘Responsible Investment Policy’, initiated by the Bursar in 2019.
Another author, former Jesus College Students Union (JCSU) environmental and ethical affairs officer Zak Coleman, said: “This campaign has never been about a personal criticism of Jesus College, or its hard-working staff. It is about trying to wake Jesus College up to the horrifying reality of its current investment portfolio and the need to make unprecedented changes which reflect both the scale of the planetary disaster we are facing and the College’s historic complicity with the problem.
“Whatever it takes, Jesus College, like institutions everywhere, needs to urgently rid itself of an attitude which treats sustainability as a nice-to-have extra, detached from structures of race and class-based global inequalities. What might have been an incremental process of change 30 years ago, when the science of climate breakdown was already clear, must now make up urgently for lost time. History will judge us wealthy, Western institutions harshly if we decide that any wealth management option that may possibly reduce the size of our endowment is unconscionable, no matter the environmental or social consequences. No longer can our wider responsibility to communities around the world, or future generations of students, be ignored.”
A College spokesperson said: “At Jesus College we recognise the urgency of climate change. We have been working on a comprehensive set of new policies since before the start of the pandemic. Fellows, students and staff have been involved in developing our first sustainability strategy and our new Responsible Investment Policy, due out in the next few months. We always welcome engagement and ideas from members of the College as we seek to make a positive impact; some of the authors of the Climate Justice Campaign’s report have made contributions to our plans through consultations, committee meetings and written submissions.
“Another major way we are making a difference is through our operations, estate and wider holdings. We have been improving our sustainability for almost a decade and in the last year we have launched a huge number of initiatives, from free plant milk in our cafe to investing in a fully sustainable ground source heat pump for our kitchen project. We look forward to sharing our ambitions later this term.”