UWSA launches divestment campaign

Other universities worldwide have committed to divestment

UWSA president Meagan Malcolm.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

On Jan. 29, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) launched a divestment campaign, calling on the University of Winnipeg (U of W) “to commit to divestment and go #fossilfree,” according to their website.

While there have been organized efforts in the past calling on the U of W to commit to divestment, this campaign’s relaunch signals that this issue is a priority for the current UWSA executive team.

Meagan Malcolm, the UWSA president, says the divestment movement at the U of W started about five years ago.

“It began when a group of students and faculty members started to ask questions and challenged the university administration’s ... position on fossil fuel investment,” she says.

The relaunched campaign shares many similarities with the original, such as being Indigenous-led.

“We are calling on the university to take action consistent with their stated values and policies surrounding environmental and Indigenous priorities,” Malcolm says.

According to an article by Emma Howard in The Guardian, fossil fuel divestment “is asking institutions to move their money out of oil, coal and gas companies for both moral and financial reasons.” It involves “removing investment capital” from bonds, stocks or other funds.

Over the past few years, many Canadian post-secondary institutions have fully divested, such as Concordia University, Laval University, the University of Ottawa and the Université du Québec à Montréal. Numerous other foundations, faith organizations and investment funds in Canada and across the world have committed to divestment.

“I think it’s ironic how the (U of W) prides itself on being a leader in sustainability and indigenization,” Malcolm says.

In fact, one of the U of W’s frequently used taglines touts that it is known for “environmental commitment” and “Indigenous scholarship.”

In an email to The Uniter, Kevin Rosen, executive director of marketing and communications at the U of W, writes that the university “conducted a thorough examination of divestment” a few years ago.

“The process has resulted in important changes, where environmental, social and governance factors are considered by the (U of W) Foundation in managing investments,” Rosen says.

The University of Winnipeg Foundation’s Responsible Investing Policy states that the “incorporation of environmental, social and governance factors in the investment process ... is prudent and aligned with the duties, vision and mission of the Foundation.”

However, the document also states that divestments “are often more symbolic than effective, especially for relatively small investors such as the Foundation, and carries the risk of unintended consequences.”

Malcom believes it is critical for the UWSA to be involved.

“What we would like is an announcement from the U of W and the Foundation, and we want them to move in a direction towards divestment,” she says.

Rosen says the university’s “thorough examination of divestment,” which occurred a few years ago, was “in partnership with the UWSA, community and Indigenous groups.”

“We are always open to hearing from students, and we maintain a regular dialogue with the UWSA,” he says.

Published in Volume 74, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 13, 2020)

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