Who are the best people to teach children about science? You may say world renowned experts and professors, like Steven Hawking or Brian Cox, but you are unlikely to say opportunistic and repressive arms companies like Selex ES.
Selex ES is a major arms company that makes surveillance systems, weapon control systems and military drones. The weapons they make have contributed to global insecurity and strengthened some of the most oppressive governments in the world (including the dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain).
Of course Selex don’t want people to see them that way; they would far rather be seen as a kind and caring technology company. That’s why they opted to become one of the chief sponsors of the Edinburgh Science Festival.
Their sponsorship doesn’t just give them the chance to have their logos in some glossy brochures; it also lets them sponsor the primary school outreach programme and the ‘Rampaging Chariots Race‘ competition (an event for all children aged over 5). Can it really be the case that the festival organisers think that a company which supplies the kind of killer drones that have been used in Gaza are really a suitable sponsor for a family day out?
Local people certainly don’t think so. That’s why CAAT activists in Edinburgh have lead a powerful and high profile campaign to convince the organisers to re-think the company they keep. As a result of public pressure the organisers have agreed to review their ethics policy and host an event on funding and ethics as part of the festival. Campaigners are determined to keep pushing until the festival ends its arms company sponsorship.
Unfortunately this isn’t the first time that the arms trade has used an educational event to try to legitimise itself. Only last month the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham was brought to us by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Selex ES (again!) and Thales, among others.
However, not everybody wants to be associated with a trade that profits from death. That’s why public campaigns have convinced the National Gallery, Guildford Cathedral and Comic Relief to cancel arms dealers dinners or end their association with the arms trade. Museums and festivals may be under a lot of funding pressure, but if the arms trade is not seen to be beyond the pale then what is?
As arms companies go to new lengths to seek public respectability it becomes even more important to make sure that they are exposed for what they are. Every time they are allowed to target children, or take part in public events unopposed, they get one step closer to legitimacy. The response in Edinburgh has shown that they are not legitimate, and the Science Festival would do well to ensure that its own reputation isn’t damaged through future associations with the deadly trade.
Find out more about how you can support the campaign to Disarm Edinburgh Science Festival here.