Edinburgh University ditches drone firm investments

September 30, 2013

Image of drones

The University of Edinburgh is to divest £1.2m from Ultra Electronics, a company that makes components for weaponised drones, after legal charity Reprieve and student members of campaigning organisation People and Planet raised concerns over associated human rights abuses.

Ultra openly admits that it makes key parts for Predator and Reaper drones – the robotic aircraft used by the CIA and US Special Forces to carry out illegal, covert strikes in countries such as Pakistan and Yemen.

The strikes – which take place in countries with which the US is not at war – violate international law, and were declared to be war crimes earlier this year by the Peshawar High Court in Pakistan.  They have killed hundreds, if not thousands, of civilians, and as a result have been described as the “recruiting tool of choice for militants.”

Ultra Electronics, headquartered in the UK, manufactures directional components for Predators and Reapers, stating that it has been “the supplier of the controls that fly the Predator since its inception.”

The University’s shares in Ultra Electronics have been a key target of a campaign by students and NGOs who want to see accountability and social responsibility within the University’s large endowment portfolio of over £230 million, which is the third largest endowment fund in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge.

The University has also become the first of its kind in Europe to sign up to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment.

Reprieve’s CSR Advocate, Catherine Gilfedder, said: “The US’s covert drone programme has killed hundreds of civilians and traumatised populations in Pakistan and Yemen, with total disregard for international law and the human rights of those affected.  In divesting from Ultra Electronics, Edinburgh University has demonstrated its disapproval of companies profiting from such killings, and the importance of socially responsible investment.  Other institutions would be well advised to review their own portfolios and follow Edinburgh’s lead.”

Students have congratulated the University on its decision: Vice President of Services Kirsty Haighsaid, “We’re absolutely delighted that the University has chosen to take a stance and highlight that investing in arms companies is not okay. Our Universities should be a beacon of good practice and I’m glad our University has taken a step towards this by divesting from Ultra Electronics.”

University Rector Peter McColl said, “It’s great that the University has become the first in Europe to sign up to the UN PRI, and it sets the platform for Edinburgh to lead the sector in ending its investment in arms and fossil fuels.”

People and Planet will be hosting the launch of the 350.org UK campaign Go Fossil Free in October to continue their campaign on Responsible Investment.


Notes to editors

1. For further information, please contact Donald Campbell in Reprieve’s press office: +44 (0) 207 553 8166 / donald.campbell@reprieve.org.uk

2. Ultra Electronics’ website states that Ultra Electronics PMES, based in Staffordshire, supplies a range of Heading Reference Sensors to many UAV programmes Worldwide, including Predator, Watchkeeper and the US Army’s tactical UAV, Shadow 200”: http://www.ultra-electronics.com/aircraft_systems/unmanned_vehicle.php

One of the company’s US operating businesses, Ultra Electronics MSI (Measurement Systems Inc), is expert in Human Machine Interface (HMI) and electronic systems solutions, which include hand control systems, joysticks and electronic packages.  Its website states that “Ultra has been the supplier of the controls that fly the Predator since its inception”: http://www.ultra-uav.com/page5.html

3. The New York Times has reported on drones as being a “recruiting tool” for militants: see ‘Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,’ New York Times, 29/05/2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?pagewanted=all