Glasgow’s links to Saudi war crimes

glasgow university gun links

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Polina Volochay

Emma O’Kane and Roisin McCarthy
Investigations Reporter and Investigations Editor

An examination into Glasgow’s affiliations with arms producer BAE

“World Changers Welcome”. This is the slogan welcoming national and international students as they begin their studies at the University of Glasgow. But changing the world how? Between July 2016 and June 2017, Glasgow City’s unemployment rate for those aged 16-24 was 45.5%. For Glasgow students to become “world changers”, employment is fundamental. At career fairs, one company stands out among the rest – BAE Systems. Describing itself as a “premier international technology, defence, aerospace and security company”, BAE Systems is first and foremost an arms company with approximately 93% of its sales being military based.

They are, as of the summer of 2016, still included in the University’s annual list of investments. Dealing with customers across hundreds of countries, perhaps most significant is its current supply of Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft to the Saudi-led coalition which has, since June 2017, carried out five unlawful airstrikes in Yemen hitting four family homes and a grocery store, killing 39 people – including 26 children.

So why does BAE remain an attractive investment opportunity for the University? It provides competitive undergraduate and graduate schemes as well as summer internships and apprenticeships. At schools, BAE is encouraging students – with an emphasis on girls – to train in coding and focus on STEM subjects. At an undergraduate level, the largest number of students, 5,183, were studying science and engineering in the academic year 2016-2017. How will these students become world changers? The University of Glasgow dominates in many research areas. Our peers could be the ones to combat climate change effects, develop technology that solves food and water shortages, or deals with humanitarian or ecological crisis. So why step over the line by investing in the company enabling Saudi Arabia’s war crimes? The University’s policy on socially responsible investment dictates its fund managers will never invest in the tobacco industry as doing so runs counter to their research interests. Areas of research include improving human and animal health and addressing inequalities between individuals, communities and populations across the world. Perhaps the University’s fund managers are missing some vital details of BAE’s links to Saudi Arabia’s onslaught against the Yemeni people. For killing and injuring 683 children, for 38 attacks on schools and hospitals in the last year, the United Nations on 5 October blacklisted the Saudi-led military coalition in a report submitted to the Security Council and seen by Reuters.

BAE Systems also makes Glasgow Life’s – a charity working to celebrate the city and make cultural, sporting and learning activities more accessible to Glasgow citizens and visitors with an emphasis on “Young Glasgow”- list of corporate sponsors. When approached for comment on BAE’s corporate membership, a spokesman for Glasgow Life said: “BAE Systems supported our aspirations to tell the story of shipbuilding and construction on the Clyde. BAE Systems held four corporate events within the museum between 2011 and 2014. Glasgow Life seeks the support of donors to allow us to provide high quality cultural experiences, free of charge, to the people of Glasgow and visitors to the city.”

These “cultural experiences” come at the unfortunate cost of a positive information campaign that bolsters the image of BAE Systems, which recently reported the success of visiting 25 schools across Glasgow, Ayrshire, and Stirling – reaching 4,375 students. BAE also promises to see 98 young people through the Movement to Work programme in 2017 with programmes across Scotland. This endorsement by the University and Glasgow Life fails to give students an accurate picture of how BAE contributes to conflict. In Yemen alone, 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished, half of the country’s hospitals have closed, more than 700,000 people are infected with cholera, and 7 million people are on the brink of famine. The University is an international arena of students interacting and learning from one another – they know what’s going on in their world. At the time of writing, Glasgow University Amnesty International have 384 signatures supporting their Change.org petition #DivestGlasgow – Books Not Bombs. The University previously pledged to divest from fossil fuels – another investment that didn’t quite live up to its image as a liberal, forward-looking university.

This cognitive dissonance runs deeper than the Cloisters at Gilmorehill. Between 2007 and 2016, Saudi Arabia is found to be the UK’s top defence importer valued at $107bn.

Glasgow University’s own investment into companies involved in arms trading currently stands at over £1m, with £551,288 placed into to the hands of BAE. As a result of such investments, BAE continues to grow – its latest venture includes a £1.4bn deal to build a nuclear powered attack submarine, advancing nuclear arms even further. We must begin to question the necessity of such investments and hold to account institutions like UoG and Glasgow Life make as they continue to ignore the war crimes enabled by companies such as BAE.

The ambition of many Glasgow students and school children are soured by the low politics of the UK’s defence objectives and arms industry. The people who make Glasgow are unimpressed by the city’s investment choices.

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said: “BAE is one of the largest (if not the largest) manufacturing firms in the U.K., employing thousands of people, including many University of Glasgow graduates. It is involved in a range of sectors, including aircraft and defence. We do not have a policy of disinvesting in these sectors, though we keep our holdings in all sectors under regular review. The level of investment in specific companies varies over time in accordance with the judgements made by our fund managers.”

In a statement a spokesperson for BAE said: “We are very proud of our role in helping to protect national security and supporting the armed forces of the UK and its allies. We work responsibly and to the highest ethical standards wherever we operate in the world.”

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