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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.

Regards,

Aaron Bali,

SUSU Environmental and Ethical Officer

University’s response:

Dear Aaron

 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.

Kind regards

Janice

Please leave comments below.

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6 Comments on "University responds To SUSU Complaint over Presence of Arms Companies at Careers Fair"

  1. Charlotte
    Chris Houghton
    13/10/2010 at 7:09 pm Permalink

    Personally, I’m with the University on this one. As they said, they’re one of the top engineering universities in the country and therefore work very closely with these companies.

    At a time when the University is struggling for cash, they are in no position to take a stand against companies with whom they have such financially important partnerships.

    As you said, the government themselves export arms all over the world. Considering the government, as well as competing universities are doing the same, it would be foolish for Southampton to stop working with them on principle.

    From the perspective of the union, if the Uni should choose not to work with these companies, then the money they bring in has to come from somewhere, meaning cuts elsewhere. The union can’t protest everything, and should pick its battles more wisely.

    To genuinely make a difference here, we should not simply be trying to ban these companies from campus, because it will achieve nothing. Where things can be achieved are working from the top down, starting with raising awareness of what the government has been doing.

  2. Charlotte
    chris
    13/10/2010 at 7:17 pm Permalink

    Defence is a huge sector of the UK’s economy, they should be at a careers fair. If you don’t want to work for them, then don’t talk to them!

  3. Charlotte
    Emily Dixon
    14/10/2010 at 3:09 am Permalink

    I am in agreement with Janice’s reply. Whether we like or approve of it or not, the armed forces plays a very significant part of global enterprises and research today, and I feel that if we are to combat/prevent/protest against the armed forces, then we need as much of an understanding and ‘critical appreciation’ of them as we can receive. I am myself studying the MSc in Global Politics, and I am anticipating the presence of BAE systems, so that I may indeed, in refering to Janice, ‘utilise what is on offer from these companies in my present and potentially future education and research programmes.’ By anticipating such organizations as such, I shall in fact feel that I am proactively seeking to broaden my knowledge and skills in helping to formulate what may be my own views on how to rectify various glaobal affairs that are misshaping the world we live in.

  4. Charlotte
    Charlotte
    14/10/2010 at 1:46 pm Permalink

    Remember that we are planning to take the motion back to council to ensure that our standpoint is still representative. The motion was put to council in 2003 and ratified in 2009, but the motion still has no ‘union resolves’ clause, only ‘union notes’ and ‘union believes’ so it certainly needs some clarity. Your comments here are vital for us when we take it back to council so we can make sure what we resolve to do as a Union is representative of all students’ beliefs. As it stands, the motion that was passed expresses our belief as a Union that arms companies are not vital for UK jobs. When we published the Wessex Scene article last year on BAE I spoke to an engineering student who was completely at odds with the message we put across in the paper. Clearly there is a need for this motion to come back to council so that we can hear all sides of the argument again.

  5. Charlotte
    Abi
    01/11/2010 at 12:58 pm Permalink

    So is money is more important to the modern day UK university student than saying no to companies like BAE Systems who sell their weapons indiscriminately to countries with extremely poor human rights records, where we know the weapons will be used with dire effects? Are we saying that we can support companies who directly inflame deadly conflict in the world that COST LIVES, because our lives will be better through funding and a few jobs?

    Why aren’t students thinking outside their safe little box of what’s good for me, me, me and think about the people who are directly affected by our actions? P.S. If we look into the records of BAE, we can see that they have produced weapons and systems vastly over budget, have been investigated for corruption and bribery, have been fined $400million this year for corruption, have steadily been taking jobs out the UK and have announced around about 4000

    Tredundancies this year alone…

  6. Charlotte
    Abi
    01/11/2010 at 1:06 pm Permalink

    So is money is more important to the modern day UK university student than saying no to companies like BAE Systems who sell their weapons indiscriminately to countries with extremely poor human rights records, where we know the weapons will be used with dire effects? Are we saying that we can support companies who directly inflame deadly conflict in the world that COST LIVES, because our lives will be better through funding and a few jobs?

    Why aren’t students thinking outside their safe little box of what’s good for me, me, me and think about the people who are directly affected by our actions? I have been in the graduate market and it’s tough, I will not argue about this. But there are other options for students other than to put their skills to use supporting a company who creates products to kill. Maybe it may mean taking a job for slightly less money in the short term, this is not the end of the world. Our greed costs lives, we all know this is true of more than just the arms trade.

    Perhaps the generation of students at universities now can chose to be the generation that looks at the impact of their living in a linked up way so that others do not pay the price for our actions, and can fully engage in the debate around ethics and corporations…

    P.S. If we look into the records of BAE, we can see that they have produced weapons and systems vastly over budget, have been investigated for corruption and bribery, have been fined $400million this year for corruption, have steadily been taking jobs out the UK and have announced around about 4000 redundancies this year alone… This company is NOT good for our country or universitites!

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