This article is more than 1 year old

How to align university investment policy with immigration justice

This article is more than 1 year old

Eva Spiekermann is Co-Director: Migration Justice and Movement Building at People and Planet

Cardiff Metropolitan University has become the first university in the UK to pledge no investments in the border industry.

This means they have committed to never invest in companies complicit in the violence faced by people migrating and seeking sanctuary.

The first time a UK university has aligned investment policy with immigration justice, this is not just another spin on ethical investment.

This world premiere divestment commitment rightly acknowledges migration as the defining issue of the 21st century, and the role that Higher Education institutions should play in defending values of solidarity and justice for all.

Cardiff Met has set a strong precedent for other universities to follow.

Policy commitments

The university has included in its Ethical Investment and Banking Policy the commitment to “screen out Border Industry companies”. This forms part of the institutions’ wider approach to not invest in “companies or activities which are considered to be unethical” and which “threaten community and international stability”.

This Cardiff Met announcement is the first win for the Divest Borders campaign, coordinated by the student campaigning organisation People & Planet. Launched less than a year ago, this movement is building up across the UK, with students and university staff across twenty-five campuses campaigning to demand their universities divest the profits made from the business of border violence.

In December 2021, student campaigning charity People & Planet conducted sector-wide research into the investment portfolios of UK universities. This research uncovered an estimated £ 327 million GBP of university investment portfolios invested in the arms, detention, surveillance, and other related industries involved in human rights abuses against migrants at borders in the UK and beyond.

The People & Planet Border Divestment List identifies 60 publicly listed companies engaging in corporate activities that provide the backbone of contemporary immigration and border policies. This includes the management and servicing of immigration detention centres; the running of deportation flights; the harvesting and storage of migrants’ personal data; and the building and enforcing of infrastructure controlling movement across borders.

These companies include Mitie and Serco, who run UK detention centres with a record of widespread neglect and abuse, Airbus, who service drones to track the movement of migrants in the Mediterranean, – and tech giant Microsoft who provide cloud infrastructure and data analysis for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who made to the news for holding children in cages at the US-Mexican border.

Divest Borders challenges UK universities to act on a new issue but it follows the footsteps of the successful fossil fuel divestment movement. As a result of student action, over the last 8 years over 60% of UK universities have introduced ‘Ethical Investment Policies’ which explicitly name and exclude specific industries from all future involvement in university financial investments.

Industry wide exclusions

There is thus a well-established precedent for industry-wide exclusions in UK university investment policy. So far, ninety-nine UK higher education institutions have ended their financial stake in the fossil fuel sector, deeming it too unethical to continue investing in the industry. Many universities have also included clauses to exclude investments in arms companies and those perpetrating human rights abuses.

Currently, twenty-seven universities and colleges received accreditation as Universities of Sanctuary in recognition of the unique injustices faced by migrating people and the role that educational institutions must play in redressing this. As a result of campaigning and advocacy by students and staff, including many with direct experience of the immigration system, every year more UK universities offer scholarship programs for people seeking asylum and for young people who are excluded from receiving student finance due to their immigration status.

These initiatives are without doubt incredibly important and demonstrate UK universities’ willingness to listen and act upon to the issues faced by those with experience of the immigration system. But there is more we need to challenge UK universities to do. From divesting universities’ portfolios from harmful border industries, to stopping to act as overzealous border guards under the Home Office’s duty to conduct immigration check and instead prioritise the education and wellbeing and study of international students and staff and those with an insecure immigration status.

UK students are increasingly aware that walls, cages and drones cannot be responses to contemporary global challenges and are not part of a vision for a just world. As governments build higher and higher physical and virtual walls and scapegoat people on the move, border industry companies are happily making a business of death, detention and deportations.

UK universities have a role to play in defending the values of sanctuary, international solidarity and justice for all. It is time that other universities followed Cardiff Metropolitan’s example, joining students, scholars and university workers in the campaign to Divest Borders.

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