Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland, source: Wikimedia Commons
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‘Greenwashing’ concerns over £100m INEOS donation for Oxford antimicrobial research

Concerns have been raised over the £100m donation from the petrochemicals company INEOS to create a new Oxford University institute to fight antimicrobial resistance, with the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC) claiming the donation “is a clear example of greenwashing.”

It was announced this week that INEOS, described by a University statement as “one of the world’s leading manufacturing companies,” is donating £100m to open the INEOS Oxford Institute (IOI) for Antimicrobial Resistance Research.

The IOI will be a “world-leading institute to combat the growing global issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which currently causes an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year- and could cause over 10m deaths per year by 2050.”

The University’s statement added that anti-microbial resistance “is arguably the greatest economic and healthcare challenge facing the world post-Covid.”

In a statement seen by The Oxford Blue, OCJC, the group at the forefront of a successful campaign last year for the University to divest its endowment fund from fossil fuel companies, said: “INEOS is an environmentally damaging organisation, involved in drilling and petrochemical production, but thanks to this donation it can parade an ethical public front.”

The statement continued: “Investing in wholly unrelated fields is not new to INEOS: the British-owned chemical giant owns the former Tour de France Group Sky and funded Eliud Chipchoge’s successful attempt to beat the 2-hour marathon. This donation is part of a strategy aimed at distracting from their appalling environmental and ethical record.”

OCJC did add that “Undoubtedly, the research facilitated by this donation will have a positive impact. But we must not let this blind us to the destructive impact of INEOS’s current operations.”

The inclusion of ‘INEOS’ in the official name of the institute also concerns the Campaign, who say that “by naming an institute after INEOS, the University is showing the world that it has no qualms about being supported by fossil fuel money. This will mean that any advice given by Oxford or its researchers about sustainability is less likely to be taken seriously, and could be seen as hypocritical.”

INEOS was founded by the billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe in 1998, and is the world’s third largest chemicals company with a turnover of over $60bn, as well as the UK’s largest private company. With several sites in Scotland involved in crude oil refinery and chemicals production, Ratcliffe’s firms were responsible for nearly one third of carbon dioxide emissions produced by companies in Scotland in 2017, and amounted to 10% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

In response to the greenwashing concerns, a University spokesperson told The Blue, “As with all donations to the University, INEOS has been approved by our rigorous due diligence procedures which consider ethical, legal, financial and reputational issues. All decisions about funding are made by the University’s Committee to Review Donations. These decisions are made in confidence and on their own merits and without consideration of, or reference to, any other University donors or any outside party.”

The spokesperson added: “We have very clear policies when accepting gifts that they should not influence academic freedom or content and this gift is no exception. The agenda for research will be determined by our academics at all times. INEOS will naturally be very interested in the research and the changes it can bring about and we will be updating them regularly on progress.”

A spokesperson from INEOS also responded to the concerns, stating: “INEOS recently signed the largest industrial wind power deal in Europe to replace fossil energy with wind energy.”

The statement from INEOS did not mention the donation to the University, or address concerns over greenwashing, however it did add that, “INEOS are Europe’s largest producer of hydrogen – recognised as the green fuel of the future and launched a new INEOS hydrogen business a month ago.  In addition, INEOS has signed a global agreement with Hyundai to support the development of hydrogen fuel cells.”

The spokesperson said: “Advanced polymer developments by INEOS have led to innumerable breakthroughs in reduction of carbon in the environment allowing light weighting of road, rail and air transport and contributing the key raw materials for alternative energy systems. INEOS has numerous technical projects engaged on advanced recycling of plastics and published commitments to raise the proportion of recycled plastic in our products.”

OCJC has called for “greater transparency” from the University’s Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding. The Campaign argued: “If Oxford wants to brand itself as a leader in addressing climate change (as it showed by divesting in April 2020), it must lead by example, making a concerted effort to square its financial connections with its ambitious sustainability goals.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) was formerly Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue, and now writes a weekly Climate Column. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.