Video of event available at https://youtu.be/0rwErPjE16k
Panelists discussed their work individually around weapons divestment campaigns, ethical investor advising, and communities finding employment alternatives to the defense industry.
Jeff Abramson, Director of the Forum on the Arms Trade and senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, kicked off the event (3:43) with an introduction of panelists and a recognition that, because there are real people and jobs tied to the arms manufacturing industry, a full conversation about divestment must take into account employment alternatives and ways forward to ensure a smooth transition.
Lillian Mauldin, founding member of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency, then spoke about Women for Weapons Trade Transparency’s efforts to convince the University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Company (UTIMCO) to divest from their $52.5 million worth of weapons manufacturers debt and equity securities in their Permanent University Fund as of August 2020 (7:47). She discussed how these investments are currently putting UTIMCO at significant risk of financial, legal, and reputational loss, due to the numerous lawsuits and human rights law violations brought against many of the weapons manufacturers in which UTIMCO is currently invested. She discussed precedent for the implementation of screens to prevent investments in weapons manufacturers; touching on examples of Norway's Government Pension Fund and Eventide Asset Management. Addressing employment concerns brought by some engineering students at UT Austin regarding UTIMCO’s potential divestment, Lillian emphasized that UTIMCO’s investments were purely as a result of their fiduciary duty to the UT System, and not a result of their desire to build relationships with certain companies or funds. Finally, Lillian discussed Women for Weapons Trade Transparency’s plan to take the campaign to the UT System Board of Regents following UTIMCO’s denial of capability to implement policy suggestions aligned with divestment. See also:
- Women for Weapons Trade Transparency’s UTIMCO Weapons Manufacturer Investments Report (pdf) and 5 minute video presentation
Rich Stazinski, Executive Director of the Heartland Initiative, discussed Heartland’s work to help institutional investors better understand risks of investing in companies involved in conflict-affected and high-risk areas (15:08). He discussed historical precedent for socially responsible investment, including colonial-era Quaker opposition to prisons, Protestant refusal to invest in nuclear weapons in the 1960s, South African resistance to apartheid in the 1980s, and the development of concern with harm to civilians that developed in the 1990s. Rich elaborated on the differences between screening and divestment. Generally speaking, divestment is the act of intentionally selling shares of a company as part of a campaign to reprimand them for a proscribed behavior. Screening on the other hand is the removal of companies that are rated as poor performers on Environment, Social or Governance (ESG) or other indicators. This often occurs before shares are ever purchased. Rich referenced the emerging gap in investment screening regarding artificial intelligence and surveillance technologies, noting that current screening practices are not considering these new technologies and a diversified weapons market. Since production for these new technologies is often spread widely across multiple vendors, many companies contributing to modern weaponry are not being captured by existing investment screening. When asked by Lillian what could be done to fill in these gaps, Rich recommended that activists develop relationships with technical experts and asset owners so that all parties understand the evolving landscape. Finally, Rich commented on conduct-based exclusion in socially responsible investing practices. He remarked that most funds have relied on UN Security Council (UNSC) arms embargoes as standards for exclusion, but due to the highly politicized nature of UNSC proceedings, these designations fail to screen actors. See also:
- Sam Jones & Richard Stazinski, “Advancing business respect for human rights in conflict-affected areas through the UNGPs,” Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, June 9, 2021.
- David Kaye and Marietje Schaake, “Opinion: Global spyware such as Pegasus is a threat to democracy. Here’s how to stop it.” Washington Post, July 19, 2021.
- Presbyterian Church USA Divestment/Proscription list, 2019
Atlanta-based journalist Taylor Barnes (website) discussed her work covering defense industry workers and defense communities (22:27). Taylor commented that many defense industry workers during the pandemic were surprised to find out that they were designated as essential workers. She described a video of Anthony, a Fort Worth Lockheed Martin worker who was infected with Covid-19, that went viral among F35 manufacturers in Fort Worth Texas after he called into question Lockheed Martin’s care for its employees. Taylor described her solutions journalism coverage of the transition from defense industry to green economy jobs in Huntsville, Alabama; particularly how one one engineer adapted his understanding of jet engines from his time working on fighter jets to create an innovating new wind energy technology. She recounted how a union leader at a Space Force contractor near Huntsville discussed her reporting live on pro-labor talk radio and told listeners,, “transitioning from defense to climate spending is something that actually helps working people, rather than killing working people overseas.” Lastly, Taylor discussed her latest coverage of community concern in Asheville, North Carolina over the construction of a F-35 engine parts plant for a division of Raytheon. The deal was negotiated without public transparency and the town’s residents only had one hour on one day to voice their opposition in a town hall meeting. A coalition of individuals opposing the deal, Reject Raytheon AVL, believes that the green economy will create far more jobs than the military industrial complex. See also:
- Taylor Barnes, “'Honk for humane jobs': NC activists challenge subsidies for weapons maker,” Facing South/Responsible Statecraft, July 21, 2021; “From arms to renewables: How workers in this Southern military industrial hub are converting the economy,” Southerly, October 27, 2020; and “Trump Administration Quietly Adds Foreign Arms Sale to List of ‘Essential Work’ Some defense workers say their lives shouldn’t be risked to make weapons,” In These Times, May 19, 2020
During the Q&A, guest commentator William Hartung, Director of the Arms and Security Program of Center for International Policy, discussed the green economic transition as a political issue (41:40). He commented that, in Congress, supporting the military industrial complex for job creation is the path of least resistance. When asked by Lillian how defense contractors and weapons manufacturers play up job creation in their lobbying and advertising, William described how jobs are put up front in defense industry advertising, and how defense industry lobbyists use jobs as a lobbying tool to encourage representatives to support increased funding for these companies. He also outlined his research finding that job creation numbers are often overinflated, in particular those associated with arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The panel ended with optimistic, forward-looking remarks from panelists. Lillian emphasized the importance of coalition advocacy and solidarity among those who envision a world in which the manufacture, sale, and use of arms and weapons of war has decreased. Indeed, Rich remarked, “The next generation of advocates are even less constrained by convention than those that came before them. The goal isn’t simply to fix our world, but to build a better new one.”