News Editor Charlie O’Keeffe reports on the fact that the UoB Guild of Students will now boycott fossil fuel recruiters

Written by Charlie O'Keeffe
Images by Galen Crout

The Birmingham Guild of Students had a vote and decided to boycott oil, gas and mining industry recruitment. This was a part of an ongoing student campaign arguing that the University must divest from the fossil fuel industry.

The vote was an All Student Vote, and the motion passed with 84% support. This means that the Guild will now stop allowing oil, gas, and mining companies to attend events held in their venues. Furthermore, events affiliated with fossil fuel organisations will no longer be offered any endorsement from the Guild. 

The motion passed with 84% support

This action comes as part of the wider Fossil Free Careers campaign, happening across the UK, that is coordinated by the student campaigning charity People & Planet. This campaign demands that all UK universities end oil, gas and mining industry recruitment on university campuses. Fossil Free Careers has already seen 12 student unions pass similar motions. Additionally, 4 other universities have committed to ending all oil, gas and mining industry recruitment on campus.

Now that the Guild of Students has committed to boycott the fossil fuel industry, students from the Climate Justice Movement are shifting focus onto the University, demanding that it ends its funding of fossil fuels. Campaigners are hoping that this announcement from the Guild will draw attention to the University of Birmingham’s continued investment in the fossil fuel industry. More than 60% of universities in the UK have divested from fossil fuels. For a decade, students have been asking the University of Birmingham to remove fossil fuel companies from its investment portfolios.

Gwydion Elliott, from the University of Birmingham Climate Justice Movement said:

‘The SU motion we’ve passed is really important because it means students’ voices are being heard: They refuse to accept an industry that’s betting against their survival, and the survival of the planet. The University now needs to get with the program and recognise that it’s on the wrong side of history. They should be listening to the students that make up the University community.’

Redbrick spoke further to Gwydion. When asked why he felt this move was so important, he said: ‘This move is hugely important for two reasons: the fossil fuel industry is investing billions in projects which will see us blow past safe levels of warming, while pretending to be leaders in clean energy. So, firstly, it’s crucial that we withdraw our support from these groups, be it through investing or allowing them to recruit on campus. Secondly, students and young people are often at the forefront of climate action and so this move from the Guild of Students will hopefully bring about change at the university level soon.’

When we asked him how he would respond to students who disagree with this move he said: ‘Students whose choices might be limited by this policy if it’s taken up by the university might be understandably frustrated. For me, learning about the climate-killing actions of these companies takes them off the table for my career plans. It’s basic mathematics that the oil we’re planning on burning will put the world in danger – we need to bring that number down to 0 and these companies are doing everything they can to fight that and protect their profits. Students deserve better options. Until BP, Shell and the like get on the right side of history our careers fairs should show us futures that we can be proud of by giving that space to others.’ 

It’s basic mathematics that the oil we’re planning on burning will put the world in danger

He gave an example of the kind of University affiliation which the campaign wants to put a stop to: ‘A recent example of the university’s ties to fossil fuels is a BUCES careers networking dinner at which chemical engineering students were wooed by BP and Exxon. A quick look at the uni’s careers connect web page reveals BP advertising graduate programmes, touting their commitment to “change energy for the better” while still investing twice as much in oil and gas than renewables.’

Gwydion described how in the campaign for this policy: ‘We were helped immensely by the fact that so many students support these policies and recognise oil companies for what they are. Most students might not take the time to vote for Guild motions, or hear about the vote at all, so we needed to get out there in the rain and cold in order to raise awareness. Once we spoke to people though, there was a lot of support and enthusiasm: for every ‘no’ vote on the motion, more than 9 students voted ‘yes’

For every ‘no’ vote on the motion, more than 9 students voted ‘yes’

Redbrick reached out to the University and they said: ‘The University of Birmingham invests in companies that are committed to transitioning to a sustainable future and an associated lower carbon world in line with the Paris Agreement, enabling us to influence change.

All investments are identified by the University’s socially-conscious, independent investment managers; they comply with the University’s Responsible Investment Policy, which excludes oil and mining companies where over 5% of their global revenues come from the largest pollutants.

As a result of the responsible investment actions taken by the University, investment in fossil fuel related companies now represents only 0.22% of the University’s investments overall. This percentage will reduce further as a result of investment fund changes the University is making over the coming months and compares to around 10% investment in fossil fuel related companies in 2018.

The University of Birmingham is committed to sustainability, setting ambitious targets to achieve net zero carbon by 2045. We have joined many others in Declaring a Climate Emergency and have also signed up to the UN Race to Zero global campaign, which aims to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

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