Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ethical Investment

Tonight Peter Mirfield (Jesus College Estates Bursar) agreed to talk to a group of junior members about college finances. The general aim was to find out how ethically college money was managed, but we learned a great deal more about the general financial management of college affairs - for example, the most of the college's endowment is in property, that they made a small loss last year, and that Mirfield estimates the central college site to be worth £40m, bordering as it does the main shopping street (Cornmarket) in Oxford.

As for what our money's in, he couldn't be too open, but mostly it seems general tracker funds (e.g. FTSE 100), which presumably need not be wholly ethical companies. He did, however, raise questions as to what counts as ethical. Obviously not arms trade, but what about tobacco or alcohol? (We probably couldn't condemn the latter in clear conscience)

Unfortunately prospects for radical change are probably rather limited. He made clear that Jesus' money isn't ours (i.e. the present generation's) to do with as we like; rather, it's held in trust for future generations. We owe them a duty to manage the money well for the future of the college. This in itself is a moral obligation, which of course raises the possibility of moral conflict - e.g. if we could best fulfil our fiduciary duty to the future by making profits from current immoral firms.

Still, Danny (who organised the meeting) said he'd seen reports claiming that ethical investments do no worse financially, and Mirfield suggested the Governing Body would be open to student concerns - including also a previous JCR motion from 2001 - even if they wouldn't necessarily guide policy.


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