With the referendum for Scottish independence upcoming, my question has three possible contexts of application: it could be about the position of Scottish prisoners as nationals of the United Kingdom in political elections; it could be about Scottish prisoners under independent Scottish jurisdiction; or it could concern the say of Scottish prisoners in the decision on which of those other two contexts applies after September. This last question is particularly interesting because it opens onto some deeper issues about what it means to be part of the Scottish people at this time of potential constitutional change.
I was prompted to this reflection following a recent group visit to HMP Shotts, at the invitation of prison governor Jim Kerr, to learn about the nature and conditions of prisoners’ work there. (It was an enlightening experience, as Liz Cooper has described in her blog). The topic of voting didn’t come up, but more substantial issues about prisoners’ relations to the wider society did. Continue reading →
[Here we re-blog the third of Tim Hayward’s pieces for the Global Justice Academy on what socially responsible investment means for the university.]
To think about the fundamental principles that should guide a responsible investment policy it is helpful to get back to conceptual basics. So I shall start with a moment of philosophical reflection.
Reality is all of what we apprehend, in our human lives, under the forms of space and time. Our lives themselves have objective aspects (what we observably do) and subjective ones (how we interpret our experiences). Investment is, in the broadest sense, a putting of oneself into some venture or commitment: we invest our energies and our time in activities whose objective fruits yield what we apprehend, subjectively, as benefits. Where an abundance of those benefits is achieved, we have a circumstance that can be referred to as wealth. This has both objective and subjective elements: what has been objectively assembled is subjectively appreciated. But what of investment in a narrower sense, that of bestowing money on others that they may in due course return the sum and, hopefully, with more besides? Is this a special case of the general idea or something rather different? Continue reading →
In its current consultation on its investment policy, the University of Edinburgh reminds us that its Strategic Plan aims to make a socially responsible contribution to the world in three key areas: health, economic growth, and cultural wellbeing. The social reasons for seeking to promote health and cultural wellbeing are readily understandable, but what about economic growth? Unlike health or wellbeing, which are values counted among fundamental human rights, economic growth is not a direct good for people. It is at most a proxy for measuring the potential means to achieve the wealth that may in turn be good for people.
The assumption that economic growth is a good thing implies a judgement about macroeconomic morality. I want to examine that assumption and how it relates to the principles of responsible investment. A commitment to such principles means being prepared to forego a financial return if that could only be achieved at the expense of unacceptable costs being inflicted on people or planet. The University of Edinburgh has already taken this kind of stand with regard to investments in tobacco and drones technology. It is thus committed to certain principles of microeconomic morality. Continue reading →
As Edinburgh University publishes a consultation paper on responsible investment, JWI director Tim Hayward offers some reflections (re-blogged from Global Justice Academy Blog)
Why should a university be socially responsible? A question thrown into relief by the current debate over universities’ investments concerns the social role of the university and the relation of that to its core academic activities. In a thoughtful response to an earlier blog where I argued in favour of the fossil fuel divestment campaign, a critic, Nick Geiser, objects that the campaign is ‘forcing universities to “take a side” in the climate change debate and committing the university to a particular set of political objectives.’ This, he maintains, ‘is a radical attack on the principles of scholarship and academic freedom and threatens open debate in higher education.’ Since that sounds like a damaging charge, I’d like to consider more carefully why we should suppose that urging a university to take a decision that may be perceived to have a distinctive political colour is necessarily a threat to academic freedom or any other core value of a university. Continue reading →
Divestment from fossil fuels is the focus of a campaign among students and other civil society groups that is gathering momentum – and faster, it seems, even than previous campaigns that targeted apartheid, tobacco and arms manufacturers. Universities are among the institutions to come under particular pressure to withdraw their investments in funds that yield profits directly from fossil fuel exploitation. But should they do so?
People unpersuaded by the campaign suggest three sorts of reason why not. The first is that a responsible institutional investor has to consider what would happen if we just were to eliminate all the fossil fuels whose energy we depend on in so many ways, and through so many intricate interconnections of the fabric of the socio-economic relations that sustain our lives and keep us in work. For the time being, at least, and however much we might personally or even professionally regret it, we should recognize we depend as a society on fossil fuel power. Secondly, investment managers have fiduciary duties to protect returns on investment for their clients, and such duties cannot be subordinated to the political demands of campaigning groups that may not even have any direct stake in the funds. Continue reading →
Any renewal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has to acknowledge the fact that we live in a crowded planet – crowded in the sense that the demands placed by the world’s human population on its ecological space are such that some members do not have adequate for their health and well-being.
The growth of human numbers is clearly a major concern, but in framing that concern we need to think carefully how the naturalistic element of the problem – the size of a population in relation to its ecological support system – is affected by the social relations that distribute rights of access to it. The connection between the ecological and the social is not always reflected on clearly, if at all, in discussions of human rights and ethics. Continue reading →
This is a question that is to be considered in public deliberations of the Global Citizenship Commission that holds its inaugural meeting in Edinburgh this week. Ahead of that, the Just World Institute organised an Ethics Forum meeting to think through some aspects of the question. My own contribution to the debate is to make four interconnected suggestions: 1) rights and duties regarding the environment should be explicitly mentioned; 2) the significance of the fact we live in a crowded planet should be foregrounded in the preamble; 3) the limits to the justification of property in general, and intellectual property in particular, should be more clearly stated; 4) the point that human rights set standards of right and wrong conduct should be emphasised against possessive individualist interpretations of rights as ‘things’. Continue reading →
The University of Edinburgh’s recent withdrawal of its £1.2M investment in a manufacturer of parts for US drones was praised by many, and Rob Edwards’ related news item in the Guardian was widely retweeted with positive comment. Readers’ comments, however, give the news a more mixed reception.
Did the University do the right thing? What, if anything, does the logic of its decision commit it to doing next? The first of those questions was aired in the online comments; and looking at those may help answer the second question, which is now a live one for the university: what next?
Nobody can doubt that Edinburgh will take the question seriously. The disinvestment decision was taken on grounds of social responsibility following pressure from students and campaigners – notably People & Planet. Continue reading →