An investigation conducted by Justice for Myanmar showed in March that the ABP pension fund, which manages the pensions of university employees, invests in companies that have strong ties with the military junta governing Myanmar. A military coup was staged by the South East Asian country’s army on 1 February. Since then, the army has been in charge of Myanmar, and has met protests against the coup with brutality, killing dozens of protesters.
Staff of ISS, a The Hague-based component of Erasmus University, embarked on their solidarity actions even before the publication of the Justice for Myanmar report. “Several people affiliated with ISS work in Myanmar or conduct research on subjects related to the country. This touches on their lives. They are concerned,” says one member of the network that organises ISS’s solidarity actions.
The organisation within the institute calls itself the ISS Solidarity with the CDM in Myanmar Network. CDM stands for ‘civil disobedience movement’, the organised rebellion against the regime. The people who make up the network do not wish to be named, as they fear individual members of the network might suffer repercussions.
Their first solidarity actions, taken in March, were group photos taken on the threshold of the ISS building and in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. The pictures show the activists displaying three-fingered salutes, which have become symbolic of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. “We took the photos immediately after a violent weekend in Myanmar in which at least 39 people died. The latter photo shoot at the ICJ a symbolic one. It is currently trying a case regarding the suppression of the Rohingya (an ethnic group that was driven from Myanmar by means of abject violence – ed.).” Among other things, the trial is meant to determine whether a genocide was committed.
When the solidarity network sent the photos to the Myanmar media, they were shared and liked thousands of times in a brief amount of time. “We have found that people there feel hugely supported by such actions,” says the network’s spokesperson.
The results of the ABP investigation were not published until after the photos. The academics decided to write the open letter since they were able to exert their influence and because it concerned their own pensions. The letter was signed nearly three hundred times last month – by ISS academic staff, as well as by academics affiliated with other institutes. The ABP stated in a response that it was in talks with the companies concerned. In April, one of the companies announced that it had quit investing. The party that invests ABP’s funds said this happened after they had talked to the company concerned.
Academics want ABP to stop investing in fossil industry
Researchers, students and staff all across the country demand that their pension fund…
The solidarity network feels that this does not suffice. “Talking is too non-committal. We want the ABP to stop funding harmful activities. Our staff do not agree to their pension fund profiting from investments that facilitate the suppression.”
It is not the first time that the ABP’s investments have caused a commotion. Previously, activists protested the fund’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. In addition, members of Erasmus University’s University Council asked the Executive Board in 2018 to help ensure that the ABP would stop investing in non-sustainable initiatives such as the palm oil industry. As recently as this week, university professors called on the ABP to expedite its sustainable investments plan.