Carbonated contention

Current AMS executives say there are no concrete plans to create an ethical investing mandate

The AMS invests over $3 million into its stock portfolio, including over $30,000 in Alberta Oil Sands companies.
The AMS invests over $3 million into its stock portfolio, including over $30,000 in Alberta Oil Sands companies.
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With over $3 million in AMS funds invested in a stock portfolio that includes Coca-Cola, a missile dealer and the Alberta Oil Sands, student government officials say the current investment strategy is lacking ethics.

Unlike the University’s financial administration the AMS doesn’t have concrete policy ensuring responsible investing.

Vice-President (Operations) Ben Hartley is responsible for overseeing the stock portfolio. He said it’s meant to act as a safety net for future years.

“The mandate thus far has really only been ensuring financial health,” Hartley said. “Is there room to move beyond financial health and into what students think is right for this kind of thing? I’d say yes.”

The AMS uses CIBC Wood Gundy to manage their six mutual fund portfolios. Funds are invested in sectors like energy, federal government, healthcare and consumer staples. In the energy sector, the AMS invests in leading Oil Sands corporations like Suncor and Talisman.

Last year, AMS members voted against the AMS divesting from the oil sands in a Winter Referendum with 67.93 per cent.

“The mandate thus far has really only been ensuring financial health,” Hartley said. “It’s an issue that students can seek to address via referendum, which they have.”

AMS abstains from alcohol, tobacco and firearms investments, although there’s no policy stipulating such divestments, Hartley said.

The AMS owns over 30 shares in Lockheed Martin, a leading missile manufacturer in the United States.

Breakdowns of the AMS stock portfolio aren’t available to students online, though Hartley provided a copy of the Dec. 2010 quarterly review to the Journal. Hartley said basic reviews of AMS investments occur on a monthly basis but more in-depth analysis occurs annually, causing much of the oversight to be carried out by the AMS general manager, a permanent staff member. The Board of Directors approves the fund’s budget annually.

When asked why AMS investments weren’t readily available to the public, Hartley said the absence of online information is an issue worth remedying.

“We could probably move towards a model that indicated what types of stocks we were in and what sectors,” he said. “But for confidentiality’s sake I wouldn’t want to get into how much we have where. Unless, I guess, we were specifically asked.

“If it’s something that students wanted, I don’t think we have a problem doing it.”

Policy regarding AMS investing lays guidelines for managing and selecting stocks, but sets no ethical standards for such investing. This policy document was only devised this year, with final revisions occurring last week but according to the policy document, AMS investing has occurred since the mid 1990s.

“Could we have a more robust policy? Yeah, I’d say so,” Hartley said. “There’s not much [policy] outside of simply the business.”

To find and lodge complaints against the AMS stock portfolio is currently a multi-step process. A member would have to request access to Quarterly reviews of AMS investments and then bring any concerns arising about specific investments in corporations to the assembly.

“My job is to manage [the investments], not have an opinion on them,” Hartley said. “I don’t feel like I’m empowered to make those kinds of decisions.

“If a decision came down from assembly that said ‘Ben, go divest from whatever company,’ they’re my boss, so I’ve got to do it.”

Unlike the AMS, University administrators have a policy document regarding investment ethics. The Queen’s Statement on Responsible Investing deems that special action be taken based on a concept of “social injury”—defined as “the injurious impact which the activities of a company are found to have on consumers, employees, or other persons.”

At a 2009 AMS annual general meeting, members voted to recommend the termination of the Coca-Cola Exclusivity contract that was up for renewal this year. Since the contract, which has brought in $5.8 million for the University over 12 years, was extended to next year, campus groups have further lobbied for the end of Coke’s exclusivity in vending machines as well as AMS food services.

The AMS Social Issues Commissioner has been among those opposing Coke’s presence on campus these years, stating human rights violations in Coke plants in South America.

As of Dec. 2010, the AMS had over $4,300 in Coke shares. Davila said the AMS investment directly violates the mandate of one of its commissions.

“This is definitely against the Social Issues Commission mandate,” she said.

“There are many corporations the AMS and the University have bought shares from, and there are many issues of equity in regards to those corporations.

“At this point we can look critically at sources of funding for the AMS and University, and we have to speak out against things that really go against our mandate.”

Davila said she is trying to find a way to ensure that none of the profits from the Coke stocks will end up funding her commission.

“We have to ensure that further funding we receive is equitable and does not violate our mandate and our views on human rights,” Davila said. “We’re still receiving money from other sources of the AMS but if we have control over it, we will ensure that sources of funding for SIC are equitable.”

According to AMS President Safiah Chowdury, the lack of any responsible investing policy causes several inconsistencies between AMS political positions and its investments.

“The barrier is the fact that we don’t have this policy, which I think is a problem.”

Chowdury said the AMS executive team is having informal discussions with the AMS Chair of the Board of Directors to develop an ethics policy. No concrete plans have been announced.

“There’s a lot of inconsistencies in the AMS in terms of what we stand for and what our investments reflect,” she said. “It’s definitely something the AMS should look into in the coming year.”

—Terra-Ann Arnone

AMS Stock portfolio

Lockheed Martin

AMS shares valued at $2,533.12.

An American based aerospace, defense, security and advanced technology company, is an international leader in the design, development and production of missiles and missile defense solutions.

Suncor Energy

AMS shares valued at $29,131.08.

A Canadian oil and natural gas company pulling its resources from Alberta Oil Sands

In a 2007 report, PollutionWatch found Suncor to be the sixth worst greenhouse gas producer in Canada, discharging 7.6 million tonnes of harmful gases into the atmosphere. On April 2, 2009, Suncor was fined for dumping undertreated wastewater into the Athabasca River.

Coca-Cola

AMS shares valued at $4,346.56.

The exclusive cold-beverage distributor on Queen’s campus, including AMS food services.

AMS President Safiah Chowdury said the AMS is against the renewal of the exclusivity contract next year in an interview yesterday. Campus groups have protested Coke’s distribution on campus, stating human rights violations at Coke Plants in South America.

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