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Game Plan

This section has some suggestions for how you can pursue your SRI campaign within college. Please let us know if something works for you which isnít included and weíll put it in the next edition.

Socially Responsible Investment Group

One of the things you might like to consider is setting up a JCR/MCR subcommittee or informal group for those interested in pursuing SRI in college. This will mean that if youíre the JCR/MCR president you have some admin support and input of ideas from those constituents who share your interest in SRI without necessarily bringing it up in detail at every JCR/MCR Committee meeting (unless they want to). It also means that JCR/MCR members who have an interest in the matter but do not have the time obligations of being on the JCR/MCR committee can give of their energies! Projects such as researching investments etc are also easier done when the workload is spread. And if you get dispirited itís good to have a committed group who share your aims to buck you up.

Mentioning the idea of an SRI group in your regular JCR/MCR meetings should drum up a bit of interest and the JCR/MCR President (if thatís not you) will have access to a common room mailing list that will enable you to advertise the idea to other people in college. One good way of getting the common room involved and getting a clear idea of the ethical priorities of your common room members is to organise a common room questionnaire. A model questionniare is included in Appendix1 at the back of this guide. It will give you a much clearer idea of the kinds of things you should campaign and press for than you could get from a common room motion alone.

Specific people whom you may wish to attract include charities reps and environment reps. They may have particularly useful input from their experience of these issues and how they are dealt with in Oxford, which authority figures are likely to be sympathetic etc. The CR Treasurer may wish to be involved. Crucially, you should approach the President of your common room. If you have already passed a CR motion demanding some investigation and action on SRI in college then it is likely that it is s/he who will have been mandated to follow it through. In any case, s/he is the individual in college with most access to information on the collegeís inner workings and to the committees and officials in college who have direct influence over matters such as college finances.

Research

You will want to be as well informed as possible if you are going to take on your GB on such a big issue. The group will be able to share tasks such as researching individual companies, fields (eg banks, oil companies etc), and perhaps look into the ethical criteria used by other bodies to help you refine yours. For example, if Amnesty, Greenpeace etc have different views of which companies are socially responsible and irresponsible, do you share their priorities? Could you find out about aspects of ethical and unethical practice that hadnít occurred to you before? You will probably want to look at the results of your questionnaire at this point to identify those companies, industries and practices of which your common room in particular disapproves. Additionally, you may want to look into the banks and finance companies which offer ethical packages: what does each one offer? Would they meet the criteria youíve agreed? Do they offer an ethically expert fund-manager service which the college could move over to? Knowledge is power Ė you will have to know at least as much about how investment operates as your opponents if you want to come across as knowledgeable and convincing. The resources bank at the end of this guide(Appendix 5) will give you some starting points.

Approaches to college

Armed with the confidence of a supportive group and all the details you can find, how will you approach the college authorities to let them know of your project? One good starting point would be to send them a copy of any JCR/MCR motions that have been passed. Then they can see exactly what youíve been mandated to do. Attach a letter explaining that you look forwarding to dealing with them to pursue this aim. Copy the letter and motion to the Bursar, the Head of House (who will probably Chair GB) and whoever else would be useful or interested.

As a follow up to this, it would be good to get the agreement of college to submit a paper to Governing Body or similar. The college may have a finance committee which deals with such matters in more detail Ė even so, your views will have the best impact and widest dissemination of you can get the GB to discuss it too. Donít be fobbed off by suggestions that you should take it up with the bursar (though youíll want to do that as well): itís a political issue which the GB should address. Your college may or may not grant speaking rights to junior members at such meetings. Naturally it will be easier to obtain agreement to such a submission if they do, but the CR President will know of the best approach if not. Feel confident in making the point that the students of the college are stakeholders in its practices; that you have a right to make your views known; that all you are asking (at this stage) is for college to look at what you have to say. They are unlikely to refuse point blank.

What will you say? Balliolís report (attached, Appendix 3) is a good start. It is quite short, which is important if you want it to be digestible or even read at all (fellows are busy people). It also makes it manageable to discuss in a normal meeting. Probably no more than 4 pages at this stage are ideal. Balliolís example is also well presented in headings and well footnoted, which makes it seem methodical and authoritative. It sticks to the point, and outlines the objectives it hopes GB will adopt. No matter how strong your feelings or how much detail you know and could go into, this is no forum for environmental or ethical rants. Remember your audience: some may be naturally sympathetic to your aims, but many others will be sceptical and/or concerned solely with maximizing profit for the college. You will need to appeal to the interests of this latter group, so play up the practical benefits of SRI at this stage.

The ethical benefits will generally be understood and taken as read. However, you should still make your principles clear. Be specific: exactly what principles would you ideally want college to adhere to? (Itís probably best to keep to a handful; you donít want to bore them or seem unreasonably demanding). What practical obligations would you be asking them to undertake in doing this? What is it you are hoping to achieve? The clearer and more focussed you are at this stage, the harder it will be for college to dismiss your arguments. Be concise, be professional, speak their language. Ask OUSU Ethics Committee to have a look at a draft if you think it would help.

Negotiations

Now the fun starts. Perhaps college will agree outright to your demands. Possibly they will dismiss you utterly. More likely you will get some tentative or qualified interest which you can then build on. Read on to find out how. Remember to keep your group up to date with how you are getting on, and to keep sharing the tasks out. The CR will doubtless want you to report back from time to time on how you are getting on with SRI in college Ė keeping interest in the CR alive will help keep pressure on to make some progress on the issue. Show that you take it seriously and you have a better chance of getting GB to do the same.

Posted on 19/10/04 by admin

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Oxford Socially Responsible Investment Campaign is campaigning for clear committment to Socially Responsible Investment from Oxford University and for greater financial transparency in the investments of Oxford University Colleges. This website contains information about the campaign, and details on how you can get involved