U. of Toronto divests from tobacco companies

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

The University of Toronto will be the first Canadian university to divest from tobacco companies.

Following a proposal by U of T student group E-BUTT, Education-Bringing Youth Tobacco Truths, U of T’s administration agreed to divest from tobacco stocks. Stocks allegedly totalling nearly $10,000,000 in Altria Group Inc. and Japan Tobacco will be sold.

By divesting, U of T follows in the footsteps of several American universities, including Stanford and Harvard.

According to Robert Steiner, U of T’s assistant VP-strategic communications, the university will divest from any shares holding more than 10 per cent in tobacco-related stocks. Pooled share groups will also be limited to a threshold of 10 per cent investment in tobacco stocks.

E-BUTT says U of T’s divestment still contains a loophole: investments in Rothmans Inc. will remain.

Tyler Ward, president of E-BUTT, said even though Rothmans’ tobacco-related holdings amount to almost $1.5 million, it only equals 0.02 per cent of its group’s total revenues.

“We’re extremely thrilled that the university took the first step of officially announcing they would divest from tobacco companies,” Ward said. “But we’re not so happy with the loophole.”

E-BUTT plans to continue campaigning to overcome this obstacle.

“It was quite a difficult struggle,” Ward said, adding U of T was worried changing investment policy would open a “slippery slope” of ethical limitations on investments.

To avoid this problem, U of T set a limitation specifically on tobacco products rather than changing investment policy.

“We’re hoping that all the media coverage we’ve received so far will bring the issue to the attention of other universities,” Ward said

Steiner said influencing other universities isn’t the point.

“We did this for ourselves and it will be up to other universities to make their own decisions based on student concerns,” he said.

Ward said E-BUTT’s next step is contacting other Canadian universities invested in tobacco companies and inviting student health clubs to participate in campaigns.

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