Ethical Investment & banking

Strong ethical investment and banking policies ensure an institution’s financial practices are conducted transparently and in an economically-viable and socially-responsible manner. Investments in the fossil fuel industry, companies involved in the operation of border infrastructure or the arms trade can be contradictory to an institution's broader aims and goals. This is why the People & Planet University League focuses not only on the transparency of university investments, but also the areas and sectors where these are held. 

60% of UK universities have now taken action to reduce or remove their investments in fossil fuel companies. This means that those who have not divested are now in the minority. Investments in the fossil fuel industry are incompatible with institutional carbon reduction strategies, uphold the injustices experienced by communities on the frontlines of extraction and climate change, and are financially precarious. Experts including The World Bank have warned against the ‘Carbon Bubble’, which could see billions of pounds lost if investments are kept in coal, tar sands, oil and gas. Fossil Free is part of a global movement that has led to over $40 trillion worth of support being extracted from the industry. This is a culture shift that acknowledges both the importance of cutting finance to fossil fuel projects and revoking the social licence that gives fossil fuel companies a space to dominate energy production and climate policy.

The People & Planet University League 2022 includes new criteria (2c) on UK universities’ commitment to screen out border industry companies from their investment portfolios. Migration is one of the defining human rights issues of the 21st century and governments are increasingly outsourcing the implementation of border control to the private sector. A vast number of border security and technology companies provide and develop the technologies and infrastructure to conduct border and immigration enforcement. It is widely documented how Western states’ militarised security responses to migration leads to the systematic denial of human rights, and death of refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and racialised communities. Ethical investment experts increasingly highlight the legal and reputational  risks of investing in the Border Industry. Through removing investments from border companies, UK universities can reflect their commitment to upholding fundamental human rights in their investment practices.

Universities will be assessed on all ethical investment policy criteria even if they do not currently hold investment portfolios. 21 of the universities that have made commitments to never invest in fossil fuels are universities that do not hold investments and these universities can take the same approach to their position on the operation of border infrastructure. People & Planet understand that it is possible for these universities to pass and review ethical investment policies before investing becomes an option for them. It is much easier for those universities to pass and review policy now - pre-investment - rather than wait until funds have been invested in, and then require a divestment process.



Ethical investment policy

1a. Does the institution have an active, robust and publicly available ethical investment policy reported on at senior level?

Score 10%


• The policy should apply to the full scope of institution’s investments or be integrated within any other investment policy 7%

The policy should be clearly signed off at a senior level and there should be evidence within the policy itself that it was last updated/reviewed within the last 5 years. 3%


  • People & Planet will look for the policy on the university website. A statement on the website about the university’s investment approach is not sufficient. If there is no policy, no points will be awarded. 

  • If no policy is found, the marker will move on to the next part of this marking criteria - the Ethical Banking section - as points cannot be scored in the rest of the criteria without an Ethical Investment Policy. 

  • Senior level sign off needs to be explicit within the policy itself for marks to be gained.

  • People & Planet expect Ethical Investment Policies to apply to all investments managed by the institution itself and the guidance provided to external fund managers investing on their behalf. 

  • The investments of external pension scheme managers that the university contributes to are not expected to be included.


1b. Specifics within the policy:

Additional scores will be added for each of the following areas included in the policy:

Score – maximum 15%

  • The university commits to including student representation on its investment committee(s). 5%

  • There are clear ongoing opportunities for the wider student body and staff community to engage with the policy 5%

  • There is a commitment to publicly list all investments annually (at minimum, listing what percentage of the fund is invested in different sectors), with a link to or explanation about where that list can be found. See an example of best practice from the University of Glasgow* here. 5%

OR If the university does not currently invest, an explanation about where the list would be found in the future is presented. See an example of best practice from Northumbria University* here. 5%


  •  Where a university does not have an investment committee, marks will be awarded for student representation on the finance committee(s). The policy should be clear about which committee holds/would hold responsibility for the oversight of investments. 

  • The investments list might take the form of a financial report and/or investment portfolio provided by the university’s fund manager for the most recent financial year. 


  • *People & Planet has included exemplary policies following requests made in sector feedback for the 2021 People & Planet University League. These were deemed strong models at the time of writing (April 2022), but this does not exempt them from the 2022/23 assessment period or predict their scores in the 2022/23 People & Planet University League.


2. Commitment, in Policy, to Screen out Specific Sectors:

Maximum 55%

2a Fossil fuel companies

Fossil fuel companies: partial commitment (i.e. coal and tar-sands) 5%


Fossil fuel companies: full commitment to screen out all fossil fuel companies 35%


2b Arms companies

Arms companies partial commitment (i.e. controversial weapons or sales to regimes) 5%


Arms companies: full commitment to screen out all arm companies 10%


2c Border industry companies 

Commitment to screen out border industry companies 5%


2d Companies in violation of international law

Commitment to screen out corporations complicit in the violation of international law 5%


  • All screening commitments must be incorporated into an Ethical Investment Policy that meets the requirements of 1a. 

  • Universities that do not score on question 1a cannot score on screening criteria.

  • Universities who have never invested in unethical sectors can still score points by stating in an Ethical Investment Policy that meets the requirements of 1a, that they never will invest in the sectors specified in questions 2a-d.

  • For the 2022 University League only signing the Fossil Free Declaration is no longer sufficient to score points on question 2a. As with all other divested universities divestment commitments must be enshrined in an Ethical Investment Policy.



3. Reinvesting divested funds:

Maximum 5%

3 Commitment to reinvest in low-carbon / renewable energy companies or funds. 2%


3 Commitment to directly reinvest in community renewable energy and/or renewable energy projects on campus 5%


  • If the university employs a third party fund manager it is still required to have its own ethical investment policy statement. The ethical investment policy of a fund manager will not score points.

  • If the policy is new, People & Planet will find evidence confirming the intended reporting structure and name, position and contact details of the responsible staff member.

  • The policy must include specific exclusions around fossil fuel investments to be able to score in the reinvestment categories above. I.e. if there is no divestment related exclusion, then there can be no reinvestment points as the former is a prerequisite for the latter.

  • Universities that do not have investments can state in policy that any future investments in energy would be in renewable energy/low carbon/community renewable energy/renewable energy projects on campus.


4. Ethical banking

4a. Does the institution have a robust and publicly available ethical banking policy reported on at senior level?

Score 5%


  • People & Planet will look for the policy on the university website   

  • And that the policy applies to the full scope of services provided by banking institutions to the university, including but not limited to     loan services, holding cash, deposit facilities, the provision of chip and pin and payment processing services

  • And that the policy applies to the presence of banking institution facilities and/or services within university-run and/or university-owned property, including but not limited to bank branches and ATMs.    

  • And that the policy is clearly signed off at a senior level of the university and within the last 5 years.


4b. Does the policy exclude banks financing fossil fuels?

Score maximum 5%

  • The University commits not to have dealings (as outlined in 4a) with any of the top 60 largest fossil fuel funding banks internationally. 3%
    -The definition of top 60 largest fossil fuel funding banks     internationally that People & Planet accepts is the yearly ‘Banking on Climate Chaos’ report by Rainforest Action Network.    

  • The University commits to have dealings (as outlined in 2a) only with banks that have an active policy to explicitly exclude finance for fossil fuel companies and projects. 5%



  • A list of the banks currently financing fossil fuels can be found on the link below


5. Transparency and accountability:

Maximum 5%

The University website collates information in one place about investment practices and procedures in such a way that facilitates greater transparency and access to information for students, staff and the general public.

1% will be awarded for each of the following being easily accessed through a clearly identifiable section of the university website:

5a Ethical Investment Policy.

5b Annual list of investments.

5c List of committee members that oversee investments.

5d Meeting minutes that provide updates on investment policy reviews and divestment/investment status if relevant.

5e Ethical banking policy.


  • If any of the information requires presence/already exists on another part of the university website, way-finding links to the correct pages should be provided. E.g. “The list of committee members that oversee investments can be found on the governance pages of the university website here (with link embedded).”