Q: What is YU Divest and who is behind it?
A: The YU Divest campaign is a weapons-divestment campaign that calls on the York University Board of Governors to stop investing York’s endowment fund in arms manufacturers. In September 2014, the hashtag #YUDivest was launched after Amnesty International at York, Students Against Israeli Apartheid and the York Federation of Students decided to initiate the call for divestment. In recognition of the state of upheaval our world is in today, and in support of the plight of peoples affected by war and armed conflict, including the effects of war on the families of York community members from diverse backgrounds, the demand was broad enough to include all weapons manufacturers. In January and February 2016, the Graduate Students’ Association and YorkU Alumni for Social Justice joined the campaign. Together, the five groups make up the #YUDIVEST Coalition.
Q: How is York investing in weapons companies and why does it matter?
A: York University invests in weapons companies through its endowment fund, a pool of money that is invested in a number of different companies to generate profits that finance student scholarships, bursaries and university projects. The weapons produced by these companies are being used in armed conflicts around the world to commit human-rights violations and war crimes. Many York community members have family members who are directly impacted by these weapons. A university that values the safety of its community should not be investing in companies that put the safety of its community members at risk, along with many other innocent people. Students, in particular, do not want their scholarships and bursaries financed at the expense of the well being of members of the community—including their own. Furthermore, York University is an academic institution with a stated commitment to social justice and sustainability; hence, according to its own standards, the University has a moral and institutional commitment to avoid investing in weapons manufacturers.
Q: Where do you get info on York’s investments?
A: After every business quarter, York publishes a detailed investment-holdings report online at http://secretariat.info.yorku.ca/board-of-governors/investment-committee/. These reports provide a list of companies the York endowment fund is invested in.
Q: Which weapons companies is York investing in and how much are they investing in these companies?
A: We’ve identified five weapons companies York has invested in: Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Amphenol and Textron. Although York has invested in other companies involved in manufacturing weapons and military technology, the five we have identified are amongst the most egregious offenders, with all of them identifying sales of weapons and weapons-systems as a major source of revenue. While York’s investments shift every business quarter, investment-holdings reports dating as far back as 2011, as well as statements from York’s Chief Financial Officer, have revealed that York has consistently invested less than one per cent of the total endowment fund in any number of these companies.
Q: How do you determine what is and isn’t a weapons company? Isn’t military technology used in computers as well as weapons?
A: Although there are a number of ways that companies contribute to the military industrial complex, we have limited our call for divestment to companies that receive substantial portions of their revenue from selling completed weapons, weapons parts and weapons systems that have been used in human rights violations and war crimes. -companies profile-
Q: Why weapons? All corporations have some problems, don’t they?
A: Weapons manufacturers are complicit in major harm and destruction perpetrated on to entire communities in a more explicit and direct way than other types of companies. To be sure, there are many other industries that cause grievous harm to people and the planet, but many of the urgent crises we face today are a direct result of war and armed conflict. These companies rely on and directly benefit from such conflict, and, as such, possess an interest in their indefinite continuation.
Q: Will our ability to procure scholarships and bursaries be affected by this?
A: Firstly, a very small portion of York’s endowment fund has traditionally been invested in weapons manufacturers. In fact, as of the June 2016 investment holdings report, the fund is not invested in any of the listed companies. Not only does this prove that it is possible to ethically manage a successful endowment fund, but it also means that we are not asking for much at all. Secondly, this means that the impact of divestment from weapons manufacturers on the ability of the university to fund scholarships and bursaries can be easily counteracted with investment in companies operating in other sectors that are not complicit in human rights violations, yet provide equal or greater returns.
Q: If York isn’t currently invested in any weapons manufacturers, then what’s the point of this campaign?
A: Although the York University endowment fund was not invested in any of the listed weapons companies during the June 2016 business quarter, there is nothing to stop the university from re-investing in these companies in the next quarter. Divestment does not only require the university to pull their existing investments from these companies but also to make a binding commitment not to re-invest.
Q: How much support does the campaign have?
A: The YU Divest Campaign attained substantial support from all sectors of the York community, including students, faculty, alumni and staff. Hundreds of York community members have signed our petition. The campaign has been endorsed by more than 80 campus organizations, including student clubs like UNICEF and the Heart and Stroke Foundation, College and Faculty Councils, the Undergraduate Business Society and the York University Faculty Association. In fact, the YU Divest campaign is potentially the most officially supported and endorsed campaign from York-affiliated groups and individuals in York’s entire history. And support is growing everyday.
Q: How can I support the campaign?
A: If you want to get involved, start by following us on social media
Please take a few seconds to sign our petition, which can be found here.
Lastly, we are holding weekly volunteer meetings throughout the summer, and will be continuing to meet throughout the fall. We will also be planning events and actions throughout the year to support the campaign. So, make sure to follow us on social media and sign up to or mailing list to get informed about our meetings and events! We hope to meet you soon.