AMS considering referendum following report on advocacy toward UBC investments

The AMS is considering a referendum on UBC’s investments after releasing an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report, which outlines options for the AMS to advocate toward UBC to better incorporate ESG principles in its finances and investments.

This report comes after a motion passed by AMS council in March to pen a letter to condemn the Israeli state occupation of Palestine and urged the UBC Board of Governors (BoG) to divest from nine companies, most of which appear in a UN database for businesses involved in “human rights violations concerns.” 

The report explains how the university selects investments, which is done through UBC Investment Management Trust (IMANT) — a company wholly owned by UBC. IMANT provides the university with "investment services, such as portfolio management and advisory services."

ESG principles are factors companies can consider when attempting to make ethical investments, like environmental harm, monitoring corruption and workplace conditions. 

In 2020, the BoG implemented ESG principles in response to the climate emergency and supported the full divestment "of fossil fuels from the Trek Endowment Fund."

The report outlines three advocacy methods the AMS could use to persuade the BoG to better incorporate ESG principles into its investments with the hopes it would increase ethical business practices. 

AMS VP Academic and University Affairs and Advocacy Committee chair Dana Turdy brought the report to AMS Council for feedback on the methods, with little discussion.

Turdy said the option she believes is the best is the third — direct action or a campaign. This allows for direct engagement with the BoG and could include writing letters and reports, having meetings with the BoG and running a referendum in the AMS spring election.  

“[A referendum] gives us a sense of where students stand and how to move forward in advocacy," said Turdy. The referendum would directly ask students "whether or not they support UBC divesting from companies that commit human rights violations, and that can give us a very strong mandate advocating to the university."

Turdy said in Council that the Advocacy Committee was considering the feasibility of a referendum, considering they are resource intensive and often mean hiring a new staff member. 

The other two options in the report are conducting advocacy research and providing education and encouragement. Both are primarily aimed toward students and would include consulting student groups, researching how to incorporate ESG principles in investments and educating the student body on these matters. 

While this would allow the AMS to collect important data and increase student financial literacy, these options are also resource and time intensive, and according to the report "is somewhat outside the scope of the AMS." 

Turdy spoke about the importance of UBC adopting these principles as "students are directly impacted, especially international students who are coming here from many different countries around the world." 

"If the university wishes to progress and really make a difference in the world, then it should reflect in their finances and investments as well."