BAE Systems, the second largest arms producer in the world, is rarely far from the public eye. Despite being found guilty for numerous counts of corruption and fraud and a track record for selling arms to countries known for human rights violations, the University of Leeds continues to endorse the company with careers fair stalls, graduate recruitment events and research contracts. A referendum next week asks whether it’s time we banned BAE from campus.
Let’s look at some of the recent incidents. In 2010, the company was ordered to pay a £30 million fine as part of a plea bargain in a long running corruption investigation by UK Serious Fraud Office, regarding the sale of a radar system to Tanzania. The same year, the US Department of Justice found BAE guilty of corruption and fraud in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and issued a $400 million fine.
Notwithstanding these dodgy deals, BAE’s core business involves profiting from death and war. Its arms are sold indiscriminately around the world to countries with poorer human rights records. A notorious recent deal was the sale of 200 Tactica armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. These vehicles were used by Saudi troops helping to suppress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in March 2011.
Despite this, BAE regularly come to campus to promote themselves. Their website talks of “exciting career opportunities” and as being “committed to becoming a recognised leader in responsible business conduct.” A Freedom of Information request submitted by Campaign Against The Arms Trade found that Leeds University received £97,241 from BAE in 2012 to fund research projects.
In light of all this information there has been a steady increase in anger amongst students over the University adding legitimacy and credibility to this highly disreputable company. In January, an anonymous group of students stink-bombed their stall at a Careers Fair, protesting under the slogan: ‘BAE Stinks!” One student involved in the action said, “The careers centre don’t properly vet businesses who attend the events in terms of their ethical credentials, and the companies’ own slick literature is no better in giving the real story, so it is up to us to let other students know the truth. And the truth stinks.”
You may be thinking that, in a recession, and with student debt rising, we need to take any job opportunities we can get. However, there are a plethora of other career options for graduates other than careers in killing. And kicking BAE off campus doesn’t prevent those students who are interested in an arms career from finding them independently. Similarly, cash-strapped departments might be reluctant to reject £97, 241 of money towards research projects, but this sum is actually a tiny percentage of the total value of research contracts.
Tobacco companies provide an interesting point of comparison in this debate. Fifty years ago, it would have been normal for such firms to recruit on campus. Today, our social norms have changed. The University refuses to hold shares in tobacco nor do you see those companies recruiting graduates on campus. This is because people campaigned for decades to make the point that just because it pays, it doesn’t mean it’s right to profit from death. The same shift in public opinion needs to happen around arms companies.
Kicking BAE off campus and a divestment by the University of any shares held would send a powerful statement of opposition to the arms industry. Leeds Union would not be alone in taking this stance. Cardiff University divested its shares in 2010 and Warwick Student Union has passed a policy banning “arms companies from sponsoring or advertising in the Students’ Union, its societies, sports clubs and events”. In this term’s Better University referendum we have the opportunity to add to this new, resounding student voice, sending a message that The University of Leeds stands against big business profiteering from death and corruption
By Hannah Mcinerny