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What to do if you run up against a brick wall…

So: you’ve passed a motion, you’ve consulted your common rooms, you are a united student body in terms of your principles and objectives for a SRI strategy, thanks to the tireless work of your ethical investment group, you’ve presented all these ideas to your Governing Body but negotiations seem to be going nowhere?

First of all, don’t be downhearted. The suggestion that the college should make radical changes in their investment decisions is one that may not go down well with certain members of the GB, regardless of the legitimacy and financial security that you assure them of. Oxfordis notorious for its apparent resistance to change! Also, academics might understandably be protective of their time, and concerned for how you spend yours – formulating and implementing a comprehensive SRI policy may not be something they consider to be time properly spent. But you can try and convince them that this is not the case.

For example, try and encourage them to realize the significant weight they carry as prestigious intellectual institutions. Oxfordcolleges are often at the forefront of political and social developments and they have significant funds to invest. The impact that your college may have on the increasing push for socially and environmentally responsible business activities through disinvestment or active shareholding cannot be underestimated.

Setting up a permanent SRI Committee to discuss a joint SCR/MCR/JCR policy on ethical, social and environmental issues may take time. However, once ethical guidelines have been established the regular workload of the committee should be fairly light.

Some points you might want to make if negotiations are getting tough might be:

- The college's status will benefit from being seen to provide the academic and intellectual lead in the growing move towards ethical responsibility This contrasts with the negative publicity unethical investments would attract.

- The seriousness of the issue deserves consideration. Just as a lot of college time is put into ensuring the college's financial welfare, time should be put into ensuring the college's ethical welfare.

- The strength of student feeling on the subject will hopefully be enough to be a visible and significant force in your favour. Collecting petition signatures may be something you wish to consider. The college should not want to alienate the majority of its students by refusing engage in discussion over proposals that are not unreasonable or impossible to achieve.

- Finally, if you hassle them enough, it will become easier for them to accept than refuse!

Also remember that the steps outlined in this document are designed to facilitate a process of negotiation. Your college is infinitely more likely to be willing to engage with you on the issue of SRI if you make clear that you are anxious to receive their input. Formulating an SRI policy requires the input of all stakeholders, so make it clear to the GB that you do not wish to simply bully them into accepting your demands.

Finally, you may have to make compromises to get a little of what you want. If screening and divestment is an idea the GB is simple not willing to entertain, then you might be wise to re-assess your position after a good go at things and suggest a policy of total active engagement, for example. This does not have to be a defeat – particularly if you are firm in your suggestions for the form this might take in order to be truly effective. If even this fails, seriously considering the ‘Preference’ approach to SRI (see above section, What is SRI?) as a first step is worth the effort. So keep up a positive attitude, don’t give up easily, and be proud of your successes even if they seem

Posted on 17/10/04 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