How Glasgow University is working with the arms industry

Photo from Flickr.

In this guest post, David Bloomfield and Claire Dobson from the Glasgow University Arms Divestment Coalition (GUADC)  examine the links between Glasgow University and the arms trade. Unfortunately this is happening in universities across the UK.

As Black Lives Matter protests all over the world draw attention to the systemic racism inherent in so many of our institutions, we have investigated the extent of Glasgow University’s ties to the arms trade and other industries that profit from globalised violence.

Revelations published in the Glasgow Guardian in 2019 had previously exposed how the university was profiting from over £3 million of investments in the arms trade — resulting in student activists GUADC applying pressure to the university directly through a series of protests.

However, Glasgow’s investment portfolio only represents the surface of the university’s long-running relationship with arms companies.

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Time for a just transition

As COVID-19 forces sweeping changes on our lives, our Government’s obsession with investing in military security over real human threats has been laid bare. Billions have been poured into aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons and war ships, but our health and social care services were on their knees even before the crisis hit.

Amidst the uncertainty, there is a ray of hope. For years CAAT and others have argued that arms company workers have the vital skills needed to build a new greener economy. Yet the political will needed was not there.

The urgency brought by the pandemic saw these blocks lifted almost overnight. Faced with a shortage of ventilators, many of the biggest arms companies including Thales, BAE and Airbus joined Ventilator Challenge UK, a consortium building ventilation equipment, showing how, with government support, change can happen on the factory floor.

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Security & Policing 2020

Protestors hold a big red banner that states 'Borders Kill' and blue flares outside the Home Office

Security and Policing is an annual event organised by the UK government’s Home Office and the arms industry trade body, ADS. The event is a place where arms, border, policing and surveillance companies work and exhibit equipment and technologies together. Government delegations from across the world are invited by the the government’s arms sales unit, Defence & Security Organisation (DSO), and so the fair is an opportunity for relationships to be built and developed between these industries that work so closely together, but also with governments and states. 

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Thank you for your support in 2019

Thank you for every petition you signed, every gift you gave, every action you took part in this year. Here are some of the year’s highlights in our fight together for a more just and peaceful world.

Reasons to feel hopeful in 2020

1. CAAT win at the Court of Appeal  

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Campaigners celebrate outside the Royal Courts Of Justice, London. PHOTO: Darren Johnson

On 20 June, CAAT won its appeal against the UK government’s decision to license the export of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The Court of Appeal concluded that it was ‘irrational and therefore unlawful‘ for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have granted licences without making any assessment as to whether violations of international humanitarian law had taken place.

As a result of this landmark decision, the government must retake all decisions to export arms to Saudi in accordance with the law. It has stopped issuing new arms exports licences to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt, for use in Yemen

The Government is appealing the Court’s decision, so we will bring you news when we have it. In the meantime, 57 applications for export licences under consideration at the time of the ruling mean hundreds of millions of pounds of arms sales remain on hold, and a new £10 billion deal for the sale of 48 more BAE Systems’ Eurofighter Typhoon jets, agreed in March 2018, has not yet been finalised.

2. DPRTE arms fair on the run

The Government-backed Defence Procurement, Research, Technology & Exportability (DPRTE) arms fair was successfully chased out of Birmingham’s NEC in March, having already been forced out of Cardiff following protests.

Activists from the peace movement, trade unions, and Yemeni and Palestinian groups came together to plan a day of creative action that was never needed. The threat of protest was enough for the event to be moved away from scrutiny and behind military wire at Farnborough. 

The arms fair will be at the Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre again in 2020. Contact events@caat.org.uk and join the campaign to shut them down. 

3. Our resistance is global

Activists stage a die-in outside the Japan DSEI arms fair, Chiba, November. PHOTO: War Resisters International

Fellow activists around the world have been taking incredible inspiring actions. Thanks to creative non-violent action by Auckland Peace Action and its allies, New Zealand’s Weapons Expo has now been cancelled, chased out of three host cities – Auckland, Wellington and Palmerston! 

Meanwhile in Japan, activists organised a huge rally and die-in outside the first ever ‘DSEI Japan’ arms fair in Chiba in November. Arms trade events were banned under Japan’s constitution until a few years ago, when a change made by the Government allowed the sale and transfer of arms.

4. European worker solidarity with Yemen

Saudi state-owned ship the Bahri-Yanbu was met with protests as it tried to dock in European ports this year, as workers stood in solidarity with the people of Yemen. While French President Emmanuel Macron defended the right to sell arms to the Saudi regime, French activists blockaded the port of Le Havre for two days in May, forcing the Saudi ship to set sail without its military cargo on board. 

Later that month the Saudi state faced more embarrassment as workers in Marseille refused to load another state-owned ship, the Bahri Tabuk, with military equipment destined for Yemen.

At the Bahri-Yanbu’s next port, Genoa, Italian dock workers joined forces with unions and campaigners including Potere al Popolo (Power to the People), and refused to load the ship. The group released a statement saying “We will not be complicit in what is happening in Yemen.” Power to the People indeed.

5. DSEI Week of Action 

Dabke protest at DSEI by Hawiyya Dance Company PHOTO @ShahdAbusalama viaTwitter

In September, LGBTQIA+ activists, green groups, people of faith, migrant groups and many more came together to resist the world’s largest arms fair coming to London. Each day was themed around a different issue linked to the arms trade from Borders to Climate Justice, because in the words of Audre Lorde, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” The struggle against the arms trade must be anti-racist, anti-capitalist, antipatriarchal, and actively centring those most directly affected by its devastating consequences.

During seven days of action, the roads outside the Excel centre saw hundreds of people using their bodies to block delivery of military equipment. As well as direct action there were faith meetings, Palestinian dabka dancing, solidarity protests with Rojava and Hong Kong, a play led by the young activists of Advocacy Academy, music, film screenings and much more.

6. Kurdish solidarity action against Brighton arms factory 

Brighton Against the Arms Trade “weapons inspectors” seal off #Brighton arms factory EDO-MBM in November. PHOTO @BrightonAAT viaTwitter

A big shout out to Brighton Against the Arms Trade who successfully blockaded EDO MBM Technology in November, the factory exposed by The Guardian as having developed drone parts used by Turkey in the bombing of the Kurds in Syria. “Weapons inspectors” sealed off entry to the factory which has also supplied aircraft components to Saudi Arabia and Israel used in attacks on Gaza and Yemen.  Read more on how a small factory in Brighton has helped Turkey on its way to becoming the second biggest user of armed drones in the world

7. A bumper year for institutions ditching unethical sponsors

2019 saw huge wins for the movement for ethical sponsorship. Art Not Oil successfully persuaded The Festival of Making to drop British arms company BAE Systems as its main sponsor, and lesbian magazine Diva dropped BAE’s staff network from its 2019 Diva Awards shortlist after complaints from LGBT and peace groups.

Feeling the heat from climate strikers and activists, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced it had listened to its youth strikers and ended its sponsorship deal with BP in October. The National Theatre swiftly followed  suit, announcing its decision to drop Shell’s funding, citing the climate emergency and the role of theatre in shaping culture and encouraging understanding. 

It’s not just oil and arms under the spotlight. The National Portrait Gallery turned down a £1m grant from the Sackler Foundation after artist Nan Goldin led a campaign against the Sackler family’s funds, whose pharmaceutical investments are profiting from the US opioid crisis.

Thank you for your support for the petition to the New Scientist this autumn, calling for an end to sponsorship of their annual New Scientist Live event by BAE Systems and BP. The momentum gained this year against unethical sponsorship promises fertile ground for the campaign to continue in 2020.

8. International Criminal Court called on to investigate arms companies 

On 12th December CAAT joined the European Center for Constitutional Human Rights, Yemeni organisation Mwatana for Human Rights and other international organisations, in calling on the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate executives of transnational arms companies and Government officials for their potential complicity in violations of international humanitarian law by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. A 350 page dossier was submitted, focused on 26 specific airstrikes which unlawfully killed or injured civilians, and destroyed or damaged schools and hospitals.

The criminal responsibility of arms companies and Government Ministers exporting and authorising arms to the Saudi-led coalition has never been challenged, yet they have played a critical role in the violations of international humanitarian law, and in creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen. We’ll let you know how this ground-breaking legal action progresses, and whether those responsible will be brought to court.

Thank you for everything you do to support CAAT’s work. Here’s to resisting together in 2020.