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Careers in the arms trade – there are ethical alternatives

Abi Haque on CAAT’s first-ever alternative careers event.

Alternative Careers Event, University of York, 10 February 2011Our excitement about holding the first ever Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) alternative careers event was well rewarded. The event at the University of York on the evening of 10 February saw a fantastic turn-out of over 60 students. In fact, the room was so crowded we ran out of seats and some people ended up sitting on the floor, so keen they were to participate.

Why we need ethical careers

The idea behind the alternative careers event came out of our Ban BAE campaign to exclude arms companies from campus, and especially from recruiting at career fairs. Universities were choosing to include arms companies like BAE in their careers events rather than more ethical companies. We found that while many students were very sympathetic with the aims of Ban BAE, they valued career fairs for the opportunities they offered to meet potential employers. Debt-laden students were keen to gain employment in a tight marketplace. In particular, students questioned whether there were ethical alternative careers in engineering and science.

Scientists for Global Responsibility logo

Scientists for Global Responsibility

CAAT decided to team up with our long-time allies Scientists for Global Responsibility (SGR) to host an event exploring why having a socially productive career is important. We wanted to highlight the importance of emerging alternative energy markets and the real security challenges society faces, as well as give practical advice on how to have an impact and the type of careers available, together with tips on how to get a job in these new industries).

SGR Director Stuart Parkinson presented a strong case for why the arms trade, generously subsidised by taxpayers, fails to address the issue of global security. He explained that what is often construed as “defence” does not defend us from the drivers of global instability that lead to the conflicts we seem to be continually arming ourselves for. He identified the main critical threats to society as climate change (making basic resources necessary for life scarce), the competition for resources (creating all the dynamics that explain current global conflict) and lack of social justice (i.e. access to justice, healthcare and education).

Alternative Careers Event, University of York, 10 February 2011

He pointed out that these issues do have solutions to be in innovations in science and technology, By using science and technology to address climate change, competition for resources would decrease (therefore removing one of the key drivers of conflict). If energy resources could be made renewable or low carbon, the global community would have the ability to support future populations without the inequality and damage caused by the reckless use traditional fossil fuels.

Universities fail in careers advice

Summing up, the alternative careers event was a success with many students staying behind to ask questions and find out more about the work of CAAT and SGR. We found that students had immense interest in careers that were ethical and socially productive yet many universities do not give advice on careers from a social perspective or stress their importance in the wider challenges of a global society.

Student Chris Venables, a member of York CAAT group, aptly summarised: “a socially productive career will target the real threats society faces… and can reduce the drivers of instability that fuels conflict, which drives the demand and perceived need for the arms trade creating a vicious cycle.”

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