Good news for OX1 and its surrounding postcodes: the university has done some good.

In the last week or so, our thirst for controversy has been quenched by Mossack Fonseca’s astounding, historic leak of information pertaining to tax and its wily evaders. Oxford can stand tall and proudly in its aftermath thanks to a campaign (named “Sourced”) that has recently been won within the university concerning tax-dodging, and ensuring the ethical procurement of funds. The University, then, is bathed in the same flattering light that illuminates the RadCam, and makes all your matriculation photos so very pretty.

Radcliffe_Camera_revised,_Oxford

The Dreaming Spires, now ethically investing

The University has agreed to change its procurement practises so that companies that avoid paying taxes are, in turn, avoided by the University’s investors. It is probably worth noting at this point that the University has always strived to be ethically upright in its approach. This change is a subtle one that severely lessens the likelihood of inadvertently investing in a tax-evasive company. The idea is, in many ways, like the quince jelly accompanying a slice of manchego: sweet, simple and likely to make a huge, huge difference. All “Sourced” have called for is an adaptation of the university’s Procurement Office’s standardised questionnaire. A simple ask, and a refreshingly simple response.

Given Oxford University’s prominence in the public eye, the agreement to act in accordance with “Sourced”’s asks can guarantee that the establishment be deemed a frontrunner in ethical procurement, and a likely reverberation is that Oxford’s position will implicitly call (and be a catalyst) for nationwide institutional change.

The movement away from unclean procurement is in keeping with the growing movement towards a new, more ethical stance that is increasingly expected of universities’ policies, and indeed of the rest of the country. The University’s decision has also set in motion a rethinking of Oxford City Council’s procurement practises: a more significant intersection of Town and Gown than Cellar on a Saturday.

While this ethically-minded action perhaps ought not be article-worthy, the means by which it came about certainly are: it seems OUSU is largely responsible for this significant shift in attitude: Emily Silcock (OUSU VP for Charities and Community) headed up the “Sourced” campaign, and her motivation for the campaign’s creation was based solidly on ethical grounds. “It’s really important to take a stand on ethical tax practice. Taxes fund essential services, particularly for the less well off. Firms that do not pay their taxes are essentially ripping off individuals for the sake of greater profits,” Emily says. “By demanding a high level of tax compliance from all suppliers with whom the university makes contracts,” she continues, “Oxford will be avoiding investments into unethical suppliers.” Hear, hear.

The campaign was engineered by the ‘Christian Aid Collective’, who are reportedly delighted by Oxford University’s compliance. According to one of their 2008 studies, tax evasion is costing developing countries more than $300bn a year. As Christian Aid state in one of their booklets, “These funds could be used to tackle poverty, and provide essential services like healthcare, education, and investment in infrastructure.” A representative told VERSA, “We were really surprised…with other institutions it’s been something of an uphill struggle, which is what we were expecting from Oxford.” Emily Silcock adds, “Oxford University was really willing to work with us on this. They were really accommodating of our requests, so the whole process has been really collaborative”.

The only other university to have accepted similar changes, as of yet, is Essex. Others are unresponsive at best.

This feels like a huge step forward for Oxford. Yes, it is good that the university’s policies concerning procurement of funds and investment of its sizeable existing lump sum have taken a more ethical stance, but the real message here is this: Oxford is listening, and it’s reasonable.

It’s perhaps easy – in the aftermath of RMF – to assume that the powers that be have adopted an “Us vs Them” attitude with regard to their coexistence with us lowly students, but “Sourced”’s success is proof that they care about our attitude, and that they care about their perception (which, of course, outside Oxford, affects our perception too). How much does this affect your daily life? Not at all. How many lives could this affect if other universities and institutions follow suit? The answer to that is very different.

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