University responds To SUSU Complaint over Presence of Arms Companies at Careers Fair
Last week, after discussions with the Wessex Scene Politics Editor Pete, I drafted a letter with Aaron Bali, our Environment and Ethics Officer to complain about a Careers Fair being hosted by careers Destinations on the 20th of October. The link to the fair can be found here: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/careers/news/fairs/scieng.html
The IT, Science and Engineering Fair is due to include representatives from Arms Companies such as BAE Systems and as reported in the Wessex Scene, a picket of the fair looks likely.
Below is a copy of the letter we sent to the University, with a copy of their response beneath it. Leave a comment to let us know what you think.
To whom it may concern,
We at the Students’ Union understand that at your upcoming IT, Science and Engineering Careers Destinations Fair there will be a number of companies in attendance that support or are directly linked to the arms trade. We wish to inform you that as an organisation, SUSU does not support the presence of such companies on campus. We also wish to inform you that some of them may be planning to host a picket demonstration against the fair and the companies involved.
At Union Council (our highest decision making body), the following was noted:
The UK arms industry continues to export billions of pounds worth of weapons every year. Many of these exports go to regimes with poor human rights records, to both sides in areas of conflict or to countries with huge development needs
The arms trade is far from being a normal, legitimate business. It fuels war, undermines development and breeds corruption
In recent years, UK weapons have gone to, among other countries, Indonesia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Not only can equipment be used directly in repression, all arms sales legitimise these regimes and demoralise and undermine rightful and democratic opposition
Many of the UK’s arms customers are situated in areas of conflict. Whilst the actual causes of any particular conflict are complex, the arms trade not only increases the likelihood of political or economic disputes breaking out into armed conflict in the first place, but also vastly increases the number of casualties once it does. Since 1997, when the Labour Government was elected, the UK has licensed arms and military equipment to 20 countries engaged in serious conflict. These countries are Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Israel, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Uganda and Zimbabwe
Expenditure on arms by recipient countries diverts resources away from socially beneficial expenditure on areas such as education and health. Some countries with massive social needs, such as India and South Africa, are among the UK’s ‘best’ customers for military equipment
The UK government assists the arms trade in many ways, which includes spending tax-payers money. The most obvious is through the Defence Export Services Organisation, a government agency of 600 people dedicated to exporting arms, and the most expensive is through the funding of military research and development. Royalty, ministers and the Prime Minister travel the world selling weapons at the expense of the tax-payer. And when deals look likely, generous financial arrangements are made through the Export Credits Guarantee Department. CAAT estimates that UK arms export receive a subsidy of around £750m per year
The arms trade is NOT vital for UK jobs – According to the government’s own figures, there are about 70,000 people employed by the arms trade, less than 0.8% of the UK workforce. The massive and disproportionate assistance given to arms exports (around £750m a year, see above) means that each arms export is subsidised by over £10,000 per year. This is an enormous amount of money which would create far more jobs in other, less capital intensive (and risky) sectors such as health, education, environmental technology or transport. A recent MoD/York University report stated that if subsidies were cut by 50 per cent, 49,000 job losses would be offset by 67,000 jobs created in the civil sector.
According to Union Policy A7.2, we believe that the UK arms industry has a history of unethical foreign trade, that taxpayers’ money is wasted on supporting the arms industry, and that the Union should have an ethical policy in all its dealings, and not accept sponsorship money, or allow trade with companies known to be involved in unethical practices. Obviously, the presence of BAE, Lockheed Martin, Detica and other companies at the Careers Fair is antithetical to our stance, and as such, we felt it appropriate to write to you so that our disapproval could be acknowledged and responded to.
Furthermore, we plan to take this motion back to Union Council in order to determine any further action we should take.
SUSU Environmental and Ethical Officer
Thank you for taking the time to inform me of Union Council’s stance on industries which either support directly or indirectly the arms trade. I acknowledge your disapproval that our Careers’ Fairs include companies with a connection to these.
Southampton is one of the top three institutions in the UK for research in engineering and computer science and is recognised internationally for the quality of this research. The University undertakes work in partnership with leading UK engineering companies in order to understand better the fundamentals of engineering materials, systems and processes. This work is basic engineering science, which is published in high quality peer-reviewed international scientific journals. As is the case with other engineering universities in the UK, the University of Southampton values greatly the partnerships that it has with leading engineering companies, and believes that such partnerships can bring benefits to our students and are in the national interest.
We do not intend to ban BAE, Lockheed Martin and Detica from our Careers Destinations Fair. We are committed to providing as many employment opportunities for our students as possible. Some may be interested in utilising what is on offer from these companies or already have associations with them in their education and research programmes. However, we respect the right of all students to vote with their feet and boycott these companies on the day of the Fair.
Please let me know if you would like to discuss this further.
Please leave comments below.