The Union is facing a backlash after they upheld a boycott of NatWest Bank which means Six Nations rugby will not be shown in the Union Pub.
News emerged last week that Union Council had voted to continue the lapsed boycott, which was originally decided in 2010.
As well as switching the Union’s finances to the Co-operative bank, all NatWest non-banking services will now no longer be endorsed by the Union.
This includes the Six Nations Rugby, sponsored by NatWest, which will no longer be shown in the Union Pub.
In addition, clubs and societies have been asked to no longer apply for grants through the RBS scheme.
Several students have questioned the practicality of the boycott, which is motivated by Natwest’s fossil fuel extraction funding.
Second year Economics student Imogen Turner said: ‘No bank is above reproach – if you banned every organisation which has been accused of unethical practices, we’d be left with nothing’.
George Harris tweeted: “Presumably bar staff will be under strict orders to turn off the telly if a Natwest advert comes on…the whole thing is absurd.”
Second year English Literature and Creative Writing student Cadi Cliff supports the boycott however, tweeting: “I love rugby, but the Union needs to stick to its environmental policies.”
Questions have been raised as to whether the Union, which as of February last year was running a deficit of nearly £200,000 is cutting off its own nose to spite its face in banning an event at the bar that raises plenty of revenue for Union services.
The Tab spoke to Community and Student Rights Officer, Sam Clark, about the issues surrounding the boycott. He told us “The Union needs to stick by its principles. There will be a drop in bar revenue over the Six Nations period but we need to put our money where our mouth is.”
He was also quick to dispel claims that societies and clubs will suffer greatly from the loss of RBS funding stating “No societies rely on RBS bursaries, and the Union does run grants including the Cultural Fund and the Working Together Fund worth hundreds of pounds each.”
When asked about the democratic process that led to the upholding the boycott, he reminded The Tab that “Every student decision is made at Union Council – and students are welcome to come to Union Council and challenge the boycott.
“Any company can be complained about – it just so happens that it was NatWest which was brought to the attention of the Council. This is a union policy and any student can lobby to change it.”
Although every set of Union Council minutes are available to view online, many students were only made aware of the boycott very recently through social media.
History student Abbie Tempest said: “As students we know little about this ban and it could also be detrimental to those wishing to apply to RBS or Natwest banking in the future.”
Sam Clark told us: “A Union blog post was published, and a bulletin was sent by E-rabbit, an email system from the Union students can sign up for.”
Finally, he reiterated that the rumours surrounding the UEA NatWest branch closures are mostly untrue. “The Union has nothing to do with the closure – it’s a building owned by the University, not us. We have no idea as of yet what will be taking its place.”
Whilst the boycott divides opinion, one thing has been made clear. Change can happen at UEA if enough students care about it. Judging by the response, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if there are a few new faces at the next Union Council meeting.
What do you think of the Union’s NatWest boycott? Let The Tab know in the comments section below!