University of Otago Foundation Trust Divests

University of Otago Foundation Trust Divests

Funding Fossil Fuels “Wreck The University’s Reputation”

Last week, the University of Otago Foundation Trust, an entity separate to the university that holds half its investments, announced that it would be divesting from fossil fuels. The trust will now also prohibit any future investment involving the exploration for and extraction of fossil fuels.

The trust announced the divestment after a lengthy campaign by grassroots group, OtagoUniDivests.

In 2014, 24 senior academics contacted the university about the issue of divestment. Since the initial letter, the group has obtained over 1000 signatures on a petition calling for divestment.

Spokesperson for OtagoUniDivests, Annabeth Cohen, said the move is “a step in the right direction”. Funding fossil fuel companies “wrecks the climate and the university’s reputation. The Foundation Trust has shown that its commitment to sustainability is strong.” While they are “very pleased” with the trust attempting to rid itself of fossil-fuel-related stocks and shares, Cohen said there is still more work to be done.

“The university council … which holds control of the other half of the uni’s investments have yet to take a position. We hope to see this issue prioritised and will be more than disappointed if divestment doesn’t make the agenda in the coming months,” said Cohen.

However, the University’s Chief Operating Officer John Patrick, said the university “does not hold any investments in companies that extract or manufacture fossil fuels, and is highly unlikely to in the future”.

“By virtue of Section 203(4) of the Education Act 1989 and Sections 65(I)(1) and (2) of the Public Finance Act 1989, the university, and its wholly-owned subsidiaries, can only invest in bank deposits, public securities and other securities approved by the minister of finance,” said Patrick.

“The university’s investment policy has a clause relating to ethical investing which specifies that the university has a commitment to ethical, or socially responsible, investing and any investment must necessarily consider social good as well as financial return,” said Patrick.

“If there was any doubt about the social good status of an investment, then the vice-chancellor would be responsible for determining this. The policy is regularly reviewed and changes require the approval of the council of the university.”

OtagoUniDivest said the divestment movement, which was brought to New Zealand by 350 Aotearoa, aims to de-legitimise the fossil fuel industry. Those involved, such as OtagoUniDivest, campaign for different organisations to remove their funds from the industry entirely. 

Victoria University and the Dunedin City Council both announced plans to divest earlier this year.

This article first appeared in Issue 18, 2015.
Posted 10:41am Sunday 2nd August 2015 by Bridie Boyd.