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Are we all invested in climate crisis? USS, Shell and us

Article written by: Dr. Angeline M. Barrett angeline.barrett@bristol.ac.uk

Angeline M. Barrett is one of the CIRE staff on strike this week. In this article, she takes a closer look at how the USS pension is invested

This week, academic and some professional services staff at the University of Bristol will be on strike. The industrial action relates, amongst other demands, to the terms of our pension benefits and contributions. Bristol is the first UK University to declare a climate emergency and the School of Education has developed its own Climate Strategy. Yet, our pension fund, USS, holds substantial shares in the fossil fuel industry. Let us use the time on the picket lines to build a climate Ethics for USS campaign.

USS investments in fossil fuels

According to the USS 2019 annual report, 40.9% of the Pension fund’s £64.7 billion assets, what is known as its implemented portfolio, is invested in private equities (i.e. shares in private companies). Its website lists the top 100 equity investments (as of 31 March). Number one on the list is Royal Dutch Shell plc with equities valued at £538 million. Shell is the sixth largest extractor of fossil fuels in the world by volume. In total, I recognised eight of the listed companies as being in the business of exploration and extraction of fossil fuels:

  • Royal Dutch Shell plc
  • Glencore plc (coal mining)
  • Lundin Petroleum
  • Occidental Petroleum Corp.
  • Pioneer Natural Resources Co.
  • EOG Resources Co. (formerly part of Enron Oil and Gas)
  • Petroleo Brasileiro SA (known as Petrobas)
  • Lukoil PJSC ADR (A Russian multinational)
1 Breakdown of USS Retirement Income Builder as of 31 March 2019 (USS 2019a)

The Guardian recently ran a series of articles on the world’s largest corporate polluters. Shell and Petrobas both appear on the list of 20 firms, which between them have been calculated to have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane in our atmosphere since 1965, according to research by the Climate Accountability Institute led by Heede (Taylor & Watts, 2019; Heede, 2019a). 1965 was taken as the start point because by then the oil giants already knew about that carbon emissions could lead to climate change (Bannerjee et al., 2016). When approached to respond to Heede’s research, Shell claimed:

“… we fully support the Paris agreement and the need for society to transition to a lower-carbon future. We have already invested billions of dollars in a range of low-carbon technologies, … . Addressing a challenge as big as climate change requires a truly collaborative, society-wide approach. We’re committed to playing our part, by addressing our own emissions and helping customers to reduce theirs.” (Taylor 2019).

Shell is investing in renewables. In 2018-19, it invested $1-$2billon on renewables, around  4-6% of its $25-$30bn annual investment (The Guardian, 2019). In this respect, the two European oil giants, Shell and BP are doing much more than US, Saudi, Russian and other oil companies (Watts, 2019). However, Shell is also planning to increase production of crude oil and gas by a colossal 38% between 2018 and 2030 (Watts, Ambrose and Vaugh 2019). Future plans include fracking for gas and oil in land belonging to the Mapuche indigenous people in the Neuquén province of Argentina (Bnamericas, 2019; The Guardian, 2019; Goñi, 2019). Local groups have complained about thousands of tonnes of toxic waste dumped on their land by Shell’s subcontractor, Treater Neuquén S.A. (Raine, 2019). Petrobas is not investing in renewables but claims that through the use of new carbon capture technologies, it can expand production with no change to its carbon footprint (Taylor 2019). Certainly, it is expanding production. This month it purchased exploration and production rights for two deep water oilfields off the coast of Argentina, opening the way for the world’s biggest expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration (Petrobas, 2019; The Guardian, 2019). Despite all the rhetoric around support for the Paris Climate Agreement, the rate at which oil and gas is pouring into global markets is accelerating not slowing. For Shell, Petrobas, Pioneer Natural Resources, EOG and Lukoil, exploration and exploitation of new oilfields is their main business activity.

Fossil fuel companies can present themselves as progressively green because of the way that responsibility for carbon emissions is accounted, including by the United Nations. Only the greenhouse gases produced in the process of extraction, refining and transportation are attributed to the oil companies. Like other fossil fuel companies, Shell and Petrobas accept no responsibility for the emissions produced when their customers burn the oil or gas they have extracted from the ground. By contrast, Heede’s research (2019a) attributes to the oil giants responsibility for all the carbon dioxide and methane associated with the gas and oil they extract, including that produced when it is burned by consumers.

It is disingenuous for Shell to point the finger at the rest of society. For decades the petroleum companies have spent millions on influencing public opinion and politicians. Shell is reported to be spending over £50 million per annum branding itself as a company that supports action against climate change (Laville, 2019a). A recently released report by Corporate Europe Observatory, Food & Water Europe, Friends of the Earth Europe and Greenpeace claims that Shell spent €35.6 million between 2010 and 2018  just on lobbying EU officials (Laville, 2019b). State-owned Petrobas’ entanglements with Brazilian politicians is even more problematic. The company has been embroiled in political corruption scandals, involving two Brazilian presidents, Lula and Rousseff, as well as a number of other high-level politicians (Chapman, 2018). Last year, Petrobas settled a lawsuit with investors in the US by agreeing to pay-outs of £2.2 billion as recompense for profits illegally siphoned off through bribes and kickbacks.

Investor influence

The current climate crisis demands immediate and drastic action. The Guardian’s environmental editor, Jonathon Watts (2019) points out that this will not come about through an accumulation of individual consumer decisions but requires turning off the flow of fossil fuels at source by phasing out extraction. The argument goes that as long as fossil fuels continue to flow into global markets, carbon-dependent industries will continue to grow. Whilst as individuals, we can and should change our behaviour, the burden of responsibility does need to shift towards the companies, which for fifty years have profited enormously from fossil fuels, whilst in full knowledge of the potential impact on climate. As Naomi Klein observed, naming another oil giant:

A lot of environmentalist discourse has been about erasing responsibility: “We’re all in this together… We’re all equally responsible.” Well, no – you, me and Exxon (Mobil) are not all in this together. The idea we’re all guilty is demobilising because it prevents us directing our anger at the institutions most responsible. (Forrest, 2014)

Yet, when it comes to Royal Dutch Shell, it appears that we are all in it together not just through consuming fossil fuel consumption but in benefiting from the profits. Investors play a key role in enabling their business and companies are under obligation to generate and to pay dividends to shareholders. Shell, therefore, can only make a dramatic change in direction in its longstanding business model with support from shareholders. USS is probably the largest pension fund in the UK, in terms of assets, so its corporate influence is substantial, particularly within UK. USS claims leadership within the sector in respect to its response to climate change. So, how is USS using its influence as a shareholder?

USS summarises its overarching strategy as:

Using our scale and expertise to deliver secure futures for our members, support for universities and being a force for positive change in the UK and broader economy. (USS, 2019a: 9)

In an article (Russell, 2018) on fossil fuel divestment, the Head of Responsible Investment, explains that due to its legal responsibilities, the first part of this strategy has to take precedence over the second. Delivering secure futures for us, its members, trumps positive change. USS, Russell explains, has a legal obligation to deliver on its primary objective of delivering dividends on their investments to meet the defined benefits for members.  This we are told, rules out divesting for ethical reasons alone and requires the fund to maintain a “balanced portfolio” – presumably a balance between ethical and unethical investments. As an example of what this means in practice, Russell points to £800 million (1.2 % of its total assets) of renewable energy assets held by USS. USS has been proactive not only in securing but making it possible to hold these types of assets. It created and wholly owns as a subsidiary L1 Renewables, a platform from which it has loaned £500 million to fund renewable energy technology.

Investing in clean energy is just one half of the USS responsible investment strategy. The fund also seeks to use its stake in companies “to promote positive boardroom action on ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] and ethical issues” (Russell, 2018).  To exemplify this kind of action, this year’s annual report (USS 2019a) explains how USS collaborated with other pension funds to engage with Shell, leading to a commitment from the company to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050. This is presumably a 50% cut in the roughly 10% of emissions that come from the extraction, refining and transportation of oil and gas; a gain for the planet that will be dwarfed by the increase in emissions at the point of consumption associated with Shell’s planned 35% increase in output by the much earlier date of 2030.  

In another success story (USS, 2019b), we are told that a resolution they proposed to three UK-listed mining conglomerates (Glencore, Rio Tinto and Anglo-American) related to how they “were managing the transition to a 2 degree world”. These were, in each case, “supported by an overwhelmingly majority” of shareholders and board members. This exemplifies the risk management discourse, which typifies asset managers’ response to climate change:

As a long-term investor USS wants to be able to assess how companies are managing climate change and the risks it poses to their business. (USS, 2019b)

Risk management needs to be informed by data. So USS, also encourages companies to report on carbon emissions and their plans to respond to climate change.

What about us? What can we do?

USS’ climate change leadership represents a shift within but not a rejection of the neoliberal profit-led logic of capitalist global markets that has been key driver of climate crisis in the first place. The kind of logic that places the security of profits over ethics. The School of Education’s mission includes a commitment to promote social justice. The Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education is concerned with issues of social, environmental and epistemic justice in education. The part of the pension fund that is invested in the environmental destruction of Mapuche people’s land runs completely counter to the whole purpose and value-orientation of our professional work and research. The gains that USS and its collaborators have made in the Climate Agreement 100+ project arguably amount to little more than window-dressing, playing into Shell’s green-washing strategy. USS talks of managing the risk of ‘stranded assets’, but not the risks to lives and livelihoods associated with climate catastrophe. Stranding shale and deep-water reserves is precisely what we need to do fast. For humanity and the planet, they are not assets but threats to security.  The prospect of a near future in which carbon emissions from fossil fuels increase by 35% is one to fill us with dread and foreboding. Certainly, not one on which to place a bet. What logic can there be to betting on a future in which we have no wish to live, or to bequeath to our children?

So as we are members of USS and the money they invest is ours, what can we do? If you earn over £55,000 or pay top-ups on your benefits you can unilaterally withdraw the defined contribution part of your pension from fossil fuels, tobacco, the arms trade, gambling and pornography. Just log into ‘My USS’ and select the ‘Ethical Lifestyle’ option from the ‘Do it for me’ section (Jennings 2018). 

For the rest of us and the larger ‘defined benefit’ part of the pension, the only way to bring change is through collective action. USS has responded to such action in the past. The reason that USS is a national leader in responsible investment is because of the demands of its members.  USS first adopted a responsible investment policy 20 years ago following a two-year Ethics for USS campaign, involving university staff and students (Fair Pensions n.d.). In 2014, it published a detailed response to recommendations of a report by ShareAction on Ethical Investment because UCU demanded a response. Another Ethics for USS campaign ran from 2014 to 2016, focused on divesting from companies with any involvement in banned weapons (ShareAction 2016). USS participates in global investor initiatives in IIGCC and the Climate Action 100+. It has a large in-house responsible investment team. USS communicates its actions on climate change through its website because it knows its members care deeply about such matters, although much of the information is frustratingly vague. Our Union is represented by three appointees on its (entirely white) 12-member, although one is currently suspended after asking awkward questions around deficit calculations (UCU, 2019).

With greater levels of awareness of climate change and following University of Bristol’s declaration of a climate emergency, here and now seems an apt point to launch another Ethics for USS campaign with a focus on climate. Industrial action brings us together in different ways that can build solidarity. One of UCU’s planned actions is participation in the climate strike on Friday 29 November. So, let us use the next week to join up the dots between pension investments and climate change. Let us build a collective campaign to demand a broader, deeper, more robust responsible investment strategy. Let us tell USS that we appreciate their efforts over the last five years to constructively engage with companies such as Shell and Glencore but they do not go far enough. Over the next five years, the urgency of climate change requires complete divestment from all companies that persist in expanding production of oil, gas and coal. Let us insist that USS engages more closely with its members to explain and be accountable for their investment choices. Let us insist that they engage with the expertise of research institutes such as Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment. Let us through sustained collective campaigning attempt to break down the gulf in values between the investment sector, where unethical investments are justifiable, and the HE sector, where ethical scrutiny is unavoidable.

If anyone working for USS is reading this, what are your plans for Friday? Do pop down to a climate demonstration, it will be a great way to get to know us better.

References

Bannerjee, N., Cushman Jr., J.H., Hasemyer, D. and Song, L. (2016) CO2’s Role in Global Warming Has Been on the Oil Industry’s Radar Since the 1960s. Inside Climate News, 13 April 2016.

Bnamericas (2019) Neuquén and Shell review security in Sierras Blancas after shooting. Bnamericas, 11 June 2019.

Chapman, B. (2018) Petrobas agrees to pay $3bn to settle US lawsuit over corruption scandal. Independent, 3 January 2018.

FairPensions (n.d.) Our history.

Forrest, A. (2014) Naomi Klein: “A 3-day week will help to save life on Earth”. The Big Issue, 28 October 2014.

Goñi, U. (2019) Indigenous Mapuche pay high price for Argentina’s fracking dream. The Guardian, 14 October 2019.

Guardian, The (2019) What do we know about the top 20 global polluters? The Guardian, 9 October 2019.

Heede, R. (2019a) Carbon Majors: Update of Top Twenty companies 1965-2017. Press Release. Snowmass, Colorado: Climate Accountability Institute. 9 October 2019.

Jennings, N. (2018) Pensions: Invest in our future, not the past. Climate & Environment at Imperial, 3 September 2018.

Laville, S. (2019a) Top oil firms spending millions lobbying to block climate change policies, says report. The Guardian, 22 March 2019.

Laville, S. (2019b) Fossil fuel big five ‘spent €251m lobbying EU’ since 2010. The Guardian, 24 October 2019.

Petrobas (2019) We acquire Búzios and Itapu fields on the Transfer of Rights surplus bidding round. Petrobas, 6 November 2019.

Raine, J. (2019) Argentina: toxic waste from fracking in Patagonia. Latin American Bureau, 11 March 2019.

Russell, D. (2018) The Divestment Debate. London: University Superannuation Scheme.

ShareAction (2016) Ethics for USS. Campaign Briefing, November 2016.

Taylor, M. (2019) Climate emergency: what the oil, coal and gas giants say. The Guardian, 10 October 2019.

Taylor, M. & Watts, J. (2019) Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. The Guardian, 9 October 2019.

UCU (2019) UCU comment on sacking of USS board member Jane Hutton. UCU news, 11 October 2019.

USS (2019a) Reports and accounts for year ended 31 March 2019. London: University Superannuation Scheme.

USS (2019b) Climate Change. London: University Superannuation Scheme.

Watts, J. (2019) Naming and shaming the polluters. The Guardian, Today in Focus Podcast. 18 October 2019. Watts, J., Ambrose, J. and Vaughan, A. (2019) Oil firms to pour extra 7m barrels per day into markets, data shows. The Guardian, 10 October 2019.

The Bottleneck of Neoliberalism and the Chilean Revolution

Blog written by: Hugo Parra Munoz, Doctoral Candidate at School of Education, University of Bristol.

Hugo.parramunoz@bristol.ac.uk @HugoPaMu

From Santiago of Chile 12th November 2019

During the last three weeks, Chilean unrests show to the world the social crisis of neoliberalism as a structure of state formation. The international media has broken the communicational censorship imposed by the Chilean government, showing violations of Human Right (see the links The Guardian, The Washington Post). The Chilean political situation has been savage; 5.629 people have been arrested, 2.009 people injured, 197 people have lost one or both eyes. Last weekend a 21-years-old undergraduate student was blinded by rubber bullets in his both eyes. Also, there are 283 cases of police sexual abuse (you can see the violent action of Chilean police here -sensitive content-, and a New York Times report here). I share my experience in the Chilean unrests while I was running my fieldwork.

Photography: Frente Fotografico

I. The cauldron as scenario

The story of neoliberalism is intimately linked to the history of a small Latin American country. Chile was the first state formation which embraced neoliberalism (Harvey, 2005). From the Coup d’ Etat in 1973 (Klein, 2008), carried out by civilians and soldiers with the support of CIA and the Nixon-Kissinger’s administration, neoliberalism has suffered a series of deployments that touch every sphere of living. The instalment of neoliberalism in Chile hit the society as a Tsunami does, setting up a crisis, disciplining, torturing, murdering, and disappearing people opponents to the ideas of the free market.

The fear of that ages operated in subjective levels. The Chilean neoliberalism; a.k.a. The experiment of Chicago; emerged as a macro-economic contra-revolution, privatising the national industry and natural resources, eliminating the notion of a welfare state, installing the logic of a subsidiary State, besides the culture and values-oriented to results. There exist a wide body of research that analyse the structural scopes of neoliberalism in Chile (Bellei, 2018; Falabella, 2015; Morales, 2014; Ruiz, 2012). In this vein, the Redondo and Munoz (2009) research points that “[people have been expropriated from the real spaces which support the associative bond, and keeping illusory and contradictory spaces that ended in subjects’ isolation]” (p. 400). As result of this neoliberal process Chilean population have observed the privatization of water, education and health (three decades before of the current NHS situation) the retirement system with monthly incomes of $128.127 Chilean pesos -clp$- (£125.8), a minimum wage of clp$276.000 (£270.98) in context where the line of poverty arises to clp$430.000 (£422) (Benjamin Saez; Fundacion Sol) for a family of four people, and a minimum monthly waste per family of clp$1.500.000 (£1472.73) (Encuesta de Presupuestos Familiares – INE) including in it education, transportation, health, and credits. This situation generates that 11 million Chileans are highly indebted, in a total population of 19 million (Marco Kremerman de Fundación Sol, 2019). In the other hand, Chile is a rich country in terms of its natural resources, with an annual per capita income of us$15.923,4 similar to Romania with us$12.301. (World Bank, 2018), obtaining a privilege situation in regional terms.

Chart 1. Comparing GDP per capita (Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico). Source: OCDE economic report 2018

The chart presents Chile as an oasis of macro-economic stability (and a population subsumed to the neoliberal doctrine) in the region. However, the extreme inequalities of the neoliberal structure present that only 1% of the Chilean population is the owner of the 26,5% of the total Chilean GDP, while the 10% of the population concentrates the 65% of the GDP (Source CEPAL, 2018).

Chart 2. Inequalities in Chile, comparing OECD and Chile levels of temporary workers and Gini index.
Source: OCDE economic report 2018

II. The Neoliberal private malaises

If you visit Chile, you can easily observe these inequalities. The 55% of workers live with salaries less than clp$400.000 (£398,14), that provokes enormous rates on indebtment; 24% of Chilean maintain credits elevated to six times of their wage. Chilean people observe the plot of several companies, such as drugstore chains (Editorial express), pharmaceutical companies (CPI), supermarkets (AmericaRetail), even toilet rolls companies colluded (Reuters) to set up the prices of their products. In addition to that, while the average of retirement income is £125.8, last year the insurance companies (called Retirement Funds Administrators, AFP in its Spanish acronyms) obtained profits for more than US$551 million. Interestingly, the military dictatorship created a separate retirement system to soldiers, with monthly payments ten times higher than the rest of the population. In 2017, the Chilean Health Ministry declared that 6.320 patients died waiting for attention in the public health system (Radio Bio-Bio). Even, the institutions dedicated to the safety of the country have been involved in cases of corruption. The army, between 2010-2014, stole US$200 million, while the police stole US$36.161.513,60. In all those cases, the Justice system applied risible sentences, such as attending courses of ethic. During 30 years Chilean population tolerate that situation creating a sort of “Private malaise” in the words of the UNDP Project. This discomfort was embodied by the de-legitimation of the democratic institutions and by Chilean secondary students who start a series of mobilisation to evade the payment of the public transportation after the increment of the fare (you can see a video here).

III. Chilean unrest as resistances to neoliberal moulds of living

I am in Chile since the beginning of the unrest, and I have actively participated in the peaceful demonstration, you can see the people dancing, waving flags and singing. Finally, since many decades the people have found new bonds of association, the parks are full of families and children playing, surpassing the neoliberal isolation we are marching together. However, The president Pinera declared the “war against a powerful enemy” (The Guardian), that enemy is the un-armed people demonstrating his discomfort on the neoliberal Chilean state, a population who claim for a new constitution to change the current design of a subsidiary state. It started in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, but rapidly spread out to the rest of the country; in that war, soldiers and police officers have acted with ferocity (The New York Times), shooting, hitting and abusing people. I was threatened by police in a peaceful demonstration at Plaza Nunoa, in the presence of my wife and our both sons (You can see a video of that peaceful demonstration here). The repression have been savage (a video is available here, sensitive content); indeed, the uncle of one participant of my research was kicked by soldiers until became brain dead, there are more than 20 people dead since the beginning of the revolt. But, we are still struggling, after three weeks the Chilean people began a national-range industrial action, and actively occupy the principal squares of each city and towns. They are claiming for equity and social justice, a better distribution of wealth, through a new constitution constructed by the people through a constituent assembly. Neoliberalism, in its logic of marginalisation, procedures of exclusion, and exceptions (Ong, 2006) created this bottleneck. The marginalised are in the streets following the words of Paulo Freire: “the democratisation of the shamelessness which took the country, the disrespectful treatment to the public thing, the impunity; they are rooted so profoundly that the nation has begun to stand on its feet, to demonstrate. The young people are out on the streets; they criticise, they claim transparency, the public spaces are crowded again, there is still a hope”.

Chilean people need solidarity of the international community, in most of the cities exist facebook groups named “asamblea de chilenos en”, (assembly of Chileans in…). Specifically, you could find the Bristol community organised in Asamblea de Chilenxs en UK or in the twitter @ChileansB, and the international assembly Chile Desperto.

Cited works

Bellei, C. (2018). La nueva educación pública. Santiago: CIAE.

Falabella, A. (2015). El mercado escolar en Chile y el surgimiento de la nueva gestión pública: el tejido de la política entre la dictadura neoliberal y los gobiernos de la centroizquierda (1979 a 2009). Educação & Sociedade, 36(132), 699–722. https://doi.org/10.1590/es0101-73302015152420

Harvey, D. (2005). A Brief History Of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford University Press.

Klein, N. (2008). La doctrina del shock. El auge del capitalismo del desastre. Buenos Aires: Paidos.

Morales, M. (2014). New Public Management in Chile: Origins and Effects. Revista de Ciencia Politica, 34(2), 427–438.

Ong, A. (2006). Neoliberalism as exception, mutation in citizenship and sovereignity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Redondo, J., & Muñoz, L. (2009). Juventud y enseñanza Media en Chile del Bicentenario antecedentes de la revolución pingüina. Santiago: Salesianos.

Ruiz, C. (2012). La Republica, el Estado y el mercado en educación. Revista de Filosofía, 68, 11–28.

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Bristol Colombia Week 2019: Opportunities and Challenges for the Colombian Truth Commission

Post written by: Mary Ryder ( mr12859@bristol.ac.uk)

Mary Ryder is a 1st year doctoral researcher at the School of Education, University of Bristol. Her research explores the conflict narratives of rural farmers in drug-producing regions of Colombia, within the country’s transitional justice processes.

As we approach three years since the negotiated peace agreement between the FARC-EP and the Colombian state, the University of Bristol’s Centre for Comparative and International Research in Education (CIRE) co-hosted members of the Colombian Truth Commission (CTC) to participate in ‘Truth, Memory and Diaspora: The Seeds of Peace in Colombia’, a week of transnational dialogue and collaboration between UK and Colombian institutions.

The University of Bristol has been working with the CTC through a variety of different collaborative projects including ‘MEMPAZ: Bringing Memories in from the Margins’, funded by AHRC, Newton and Colciencias, which supports the creative memory practices of local organisations to bring memories from the margins into Colombia’s transitional justice processes; and ‘Transitional justice as education’, funded by AHRC, which works to support the gender and pedagogy work of the CTC by connecting it with feminist and educational expertise from around the world.

The week of events served as a unique opportunity to hear directly from the CTC about the achievements, innovations and challenges faced in the implementation of the peace agreement, at this pivotal time in Colombia’s history. In this blog I highlight the key messages shared.

Gender and Pedagogical Innovations

Alejandra Coll, of the Gender Working Group at the CTC, addressed the question: ‘What does it mean to be a feminist and learning Truth Commission?’ Together, she and Ana Cristina Navarro, of the Pedagogy Working Group, discussed the Truth Commission’s innovative approaches to gender and pedagogy – two fundamental issues on the peace-building agenda in Colombia.

Alejandra Coll declared the CTC a feminist Truth Commission. Colombia is the first Truth Commission to have a gender approach central to its entire mandate, which is intended to uncover the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on the lives of women, girls and LGBTI people as a consequence of the violence exercised against them because of their gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. The Gender Working Group at the CTC has adopted a framework grounded in feminist theory and is employing feminist methodologies designed to promote the participation of women and LGBTI people.

Do Colombian society and Colombia’s education system embrace diversity? This is one of the key questions that needs to be tackled through the CTC’s intersectional work. It should be noted that the CTC is able to make recommendations in its final report, to address structural inequalities and stimulate long-term policy and social change, including through education. 

The Truth-telling of ‘the Colombia outside Colombia’

Commissioner Carlos Beristain commented on the work being done to collect testimonies in “the Colombia outside of Colombia”, to investigate how the armed conflict has been experienced by Colombians living abroad, many of whom were forced to leave the country in exile.

The Commissioner asserted the challenges of carrying out truth-seeking processes in such a polarised context, where lies have been institutionalised, pain internalised, and social fractures run deep in society. 

The CTC intends to create new spaces where previously silenced memories can be shared. Carlos Beristain was joined by members of the UK Truth Commission hub of civil society organisations to reflect upon their efforts to encourage UK based Colombians to give their testimony. 

“We hope you fall in love with the truth commission and become the channel of communication between people who want to give a testimony and us,” said Andrei Gomez Suarez, who is one of the individuals documenting interviews for the Truth Commission in the UK. 

The Challenges of Working in a Polarised Context

Emeritus Professor Gonzalo Sanchez, the former director of the Colombian National Centre for Historical Memory and a member of the Advisory Board of the Truth Commission, reflected on historical memory and peace-building in times of polarisation

Gonzalo discussed the question of who produces memory work and for whom? He raised concerns that in Colombia today, memory and truth are being threatened by “toxic narratives,” made up of hatred, vengeance and fear, built up over years of conflict, and driven by those who oppose the negotiated peace agreement. 

Related to this is the issue of legitimacy and memory production. A key challenge for the CTC is to ensure that marginalised voices, which have historically been excluded and discriminated against, are heard and taken seriously by the Colombian state. 

“It would seem that we are moving from a memory by and for the victims to one constructed by and for those responsible.”

The Opportunity for Reconciliation

The final event of the week, a screening of ‘The Witness’ (El Testigo), a film about the photographer Jesús Abad Colorado who has documented violence in Colombia for over 25 years, allowed Gonzalo Sánchez and Lina Malagón, a Human Rights Lawyer teaching at the University of Bristol, to reflect on whether Colombia is ripe for reconciliation. 

The documentary tells the inspiring human stories of the people in Abad Colorado’s photographs, exploring the pertinent themes of resilience and forgiveness, and what they mean to those for whom so much is at stake. According to Gonzalo, the invaluable memory work of Abad Colorado to not only document, but also humanise the conflict, opened the door for the victims to speak out. 

The film generates a strong emotional connection with the conflict, felt inclusively by those who experiences the conflict indirectly or from a distance. is time to know the truth because we all have a story to tell and we need to move on, expressed Lina, in a resounding message of hope.  

Lessons learned

Bristol Colombia week 2019 provided a valuable opportunity for many Colombians and friends of Colombia to learn more about the CTC and to connect with the country’s transitional justice process, and with one another, so we can support peacebuilding from afar.

Truth-seeking in Colombia will not end with the culmination of the CTC’s three-year period. It is hoped that the final report produced by the CTC will create the conditions conducive to peace and will be accompanied by meaningful efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and coexistence on a local and national level, and beyond the national borders.

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Why does global inequality in education persist?

Tigist Grieve, a member of CIRE at the School of Education, sat with our colleague Clare Walsh to talk about her research for the University of Bristol magazine Nonesuch October 2019 issue. The article is copied below.

International Development Ethnographer and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Tigist Grieve, is researching marginalised voices in rural Ethiopia in an effort to explain the ongoing difficulties in achieving education for all globally.

In a year where we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of men landing on the Moon, we still can’t achieve access to education for all across the globe.1 I continually ask myself, why not? How is it so hard? We make it complicated by not listening and by not understanding other people’s perspectives. Why is it the trend to look at people living in poverty from a deficit point of view? My work as a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow has given me the opportunity to build on my years of PhD research, which focuses on improving the educational outcomes and empowerment of adolescent girls in Ethiopia. I want to bring those voices of marginalised adolescent girls to the ongoing debate of gender and empowerment, while recognising the effort and resilience that goes unnoticed when we have a deficit-based perspective about certain categories of people.

I want to inspire people to go where others would never expect them to by engaging with relevant stakeholders in Ethiopia and beyond.

In particular, my work is about seeing the social, engaging and responding to local voices. In the words of the writer Arundhati Roy ‘There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.’

My inspiration for examining voice is the inspiring work of Robert Chambers, author of Rural Development: Putting the Last First. I am listening to the everyday lived experience of people. My work is about voice – the voices of children, of women, of the resource-strapped communities in rural areas. Really, international development policy to date hasn’t given adequate space to hear them, it’s not informed by their experiences or by their voices.2 Even where there is a claim for ‘voices of the poor’ it is proxy voices where the privileged few speak on their behalf from a position of assumption.

My work is focused on disseminating my research findings back to target communities in Ethiopia, to spark constructive debate about rural schooling and development. I want to do this in a way that challenges policy makers, development practitioners, donors, teachers, researchers and communities themselves.

I’m researching within two communities in Ethiopia, a peri-urban and rural, chosen because they are under the same local authority, but with considerable geographical differences. I believe there’s a misconception that certain communities don’t understand the value of education, but we need to research why, looking at policy, political economy, culture, social pressure. For example, despite the increasing enrolment, school attendance is very poor, not because education is not valued but because the expectation that children will be working around their homes and farms is greater. Girls’ attendance is much lower than boys because societal pressure is higher on girls. Boys have much better autonomy in how they use their time while girls in rural areas are time-poor. My work confirms the importance of recognising the difficulty of transforming gender relations through schooling alone.

We need to make informed decisions through lessons learned from quality research. The joy of being a researcher at the University of Bristol is the opportunity to collaborate with world-leading multi-disciplinary teams interested in developing ideas to meet the global challenges of development.

In analysing categories of children and childhood experiences, I’ve discovered that children are highly mobile in search of opportunities for them and their families, starting from a very young age. My research showed that the ultimate question in rural Ethiopia is ‘Who is this child to me?’ 16 per cent of children in households in my area of research do not live with their biological families and relatedness matters in this culture. This context is so important in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has such a huge population of children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.3 The concept of family is a complex one and under-theorised in the context of Ethiopia. If you’re related to the head of the household, you have access to better resources.

I’m also looking at issues such as access to water and autonomy of reproductive health (or lack of). These also play a part in preventing girls from obtaining an education. A school without a water source or toilet facilities is not hospitable to children, even less so to adolescent girls dealing with menstruation. Climate change also has a part to play in water scarcity issues, with the African continent identified as one of the parts of the world most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.4

The University’s second cohort of 15 Vice-Chancellor’s Fellows started in the academic year 2018-19, joining the 12 from 2017-18. Alumni and friends have contributed funding for six of the Fellows to date. For more information on the Fellows see our dedicated web page.

References
1 UIS. (2018). One in Five Children, Adolescents and Youth is Out of School. [Available online at: uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/fs48-one-five-children-adolescents-youth-out-school-2018-en.pdf.] (last accessed 23.08.19).
2 Brock, K. and McGee R., (eds) (2002). Knowing Poverty: critical reflections on participatory research and policy. Earthscan.
3 UNICEF. (2016). For Every Child, End AIDS: Seventh Stocktaking Report, 2016.
4 Serdeczny, O., Adams, S., Baarsch, F., Coumou, D., Robinson, A., Hare, B., Schaeffer, M., Perrette, M., Reinhardt, J. (2016). Climate change impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa: from physical changes to their social repercussions. Regional Environmental Change. 1-16.