Liverpool students take on arms companies

Last week two of the world’s largest arms companies gave a talk at the University of Liverpool.

About 50% of Thales’s business is in arms, including mortar systems, rocket systems for helicopters, precision-guided munitions, military vehicles, missiles, and small arms and ammunition. They sells arms to many oppressive regimes, including Bahrain, China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and UAE, and collaborate with Israeli arms company Elbit to develop drones.

Rolls-Royce manufacture 25% of all military jet engines globally, that are used by 160 different armed forces, in 103 different countries. They also manufacture nuclear reactors for Trident submarines. Their arms customers include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey

Both companies held a recruitment event at the University of Liverpool, but students were there to hold them accountable. James Melia-Jones writes his report of what happened, and the awkward questions that were asked.

Three students hold a banner reading "Welfare not Warfare" in front of a building signed as "The School of Engineering".

CAAT Liverpool members attended the Engineering Insights lecture where representatives from weapons manufacturers Thales and Rolls-Royce gave a careers talk aimed at students and graduates. With an underlying theme of secrecy the event was advertised directly to science and engineering students by email with no public announcement.

The speakers from Thales were graduates who were new to the company and best placed to advise new applicants and recruits. They presented themselves and the company as a legitimate aerospace engineering and transport company, with every mention of their defence industry it was swiftly followed by “this is classified information” allowing them to brush over the specifics without any detail. The only details which were revealed were that this department had the biggest budgets and “best Christmas parties”.

When questions were taken from the audience the speakers from Thales were asked to elaborate further on the work which is carried out in the defence sector. The response that was received went in to detail about a very specific project on SONAR for customers in Estonia, knowledge of other projects in the company was denied again on grounds of “classified information”. This created an impression that company workers were detached from their responsibilities and ethics on a ‘need to know’ basis.

They were then challenged on their knowledge of how their output was being used, whether they were fully aware of the outcome of their efforts or merely acting under instruction. The response given was that projects are completed to the brief set by the demands of the customer which include governments and private sector. To quote the speaker “any customer we can get our hands on”.

When further challenged on this issue, citing the selling of arms to oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia as an example the representatives insisted that there were rigorous procedures in place to stop this from happening, despite their earlier claim and evidence otherwise.

Thales representatives were then asked their opinion on the recent EU legislation banning arms exports to Saudi Arabia and how this might affect their business, particularly shrinking their defence sector. The response received was that “we are not an arms company” which was immediately challenged for being misleading on the basis that half of their profits come from this sector, selling to oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The good news from the event was that there seems to be very little desire among the student body to work for these types of companies, with a handful of CAAT activists making up half of the crowd matching the number of regular attendees. This sent out a strong message that arms companies are not desired, nor welcome, and have no place at our universities.

Campaign Win at UCL

University College London Friends of Palestine logoUCL student campaigners won a “tremendous victory” for human rights this week, when their student union passed a BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) motion. The motion was passed with a 67% majority, after a “riveting” debate at a UCL student union council meeting.

The Union is now mandated to cut ties with corporate entities directly contributing to and supporting the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories by the Israeli state, and to lobby the university to do the same. This includes campaigning for the university to break ties with arms companies that supply Israel or work with Israeli arms companies.

The motion includes an obligation for the student union to “work with students to publish a report on academic, corporate and economic links between the university and companies or institutions that participate in or are complicit in Israeli violations of international law”. Some such links, including links with arms companies that supply Israel, are already known.

A few years ago students at UCL discovered that their university had nearly £1 million invested in arms company Cobham, who are thought to have supplied the Israeli Defense Force. A successful student-led divestment campaign meant the university dropped it’s shares in Cobham.

But UCL still supports arms companies complicit in Israel’s attacks on Palestinian people. A Freedom of Information request made to the university earlier this year revealed that the university has been doing research for several arms companies known to supply Israel or collaborate with Israeli arms companies, including Thales, BAE Systems, Qioptik, and Lockheed Martin.

UCLU is one in a growing list of student unions to adopt BDS or anti-arms trade policies.

One of the UCL activists said of the win “It’s amazing that the university I go to is finally taking a stance in the horrible injustice that’s happening in Palestine. We’ve worked hard to perfect this motion, and I’m so glad the union stood by the side of justice and voted in favour of it. Now that the tides are changing, and the pressure is mounting, justice doesn’t seem like a fairy tale any more.”

Warwick Students shut down a BAE Systems recruitment event

BAE Systems tried to hold a recruitment event at the University of Warwick at the end of November, but students were not happy that their university was playing host to such an unethical company. After less than half an hour of protest, with a banner and chanting, the recruiters from BAE Systems packed up and the event was called off.

Students, including from Warwick for Free Education and Fossil Free Warwick, announced that they would disrupt the event. They spoke about the immoral and corrupt business dealings of the company. The protesters believe that arms companies should not have a relationship with the University of Warwick and should not be allowed to buy the right to recruit on their campus.

Students hold an anti-BAE banner in a room with empty chairs laid out in rows. Two people pack up presentation equipment.

BAE representatives pack up their equipment after it is made clear that no students are going to listen to their presentation.

BAE Systems is a highly corrupt company which sells arms indiscriminately to over 100 countries around the world regardless of their human rights record. For example they have supplied equipment to the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) for use in the bombing of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, and armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia which were used to murder pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. They have been fined hundreds of millions of pounds for corporate corruption.

The protesters made it clear that companies that profit from war and repression are not welcome at their university and said that if BAE or other arms companies were invited to campus again then protests would continue.

Co-President of Warwick Anti-Racism Society has said that the society is planning to set up a campaign to get BAE Systems out of Warwick for next term.