Charity Commission concern over student unions' support for boycott

Backing BDS may contravene charitable status


The Charity Commission is to issue a warning to student unions that support an Israel boycott.

The unions may be breaking the law by backing BDS because they have been registered charities since 2010, meaning they have a legal duty to represent the interests of all their members.

A commission spokesperson said: “Concerns have been raised with us about a number of student union charities – we have assessed those concerns in line with our usual processes.

"In addition, we will be writing to a number of further student union charities in England and Wales that are reported to have been involved in the BDS movement, to ensure that their trustees are aware of and fulfilling their legal duties and responsibilities, including to comply with our guidance on charities and campaigning.” 

David Holdsworth, the commission’s chief operating officer, told the JC: "The trustees of a student union charity considering whether or not to endorse a motion relating to the BDS movement must be clear what this means in practice, and must be able to explain how doing so furthers the charity's purposes and therefore is consistent with their legal duties."

Seventeen student unions have passed motions to endorse a boycott of Israel. They include Belfast, Brunel, Essex, Exeter, Goldsmiths, Kings College London, Kingston, Lancashire, Liverpool, Manchester, Soas, Strathclyde, Sussex, Swansea, University of Arts London and UCL.

The commission’s guidelines state that campaigning and political activity can be legitimate and valuable activities for charities to take part in, however there are limits as to what can be done.

The trustees of a student union must ensure that any activity does not appear to be, and is not, discriminatory towards students of a particular faith or race.

The National Union of Students has been contacted for comment.

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