The Oxford Union has been criticised by anti-war campaigners after receiving sponsorship from a major arms company.
BAE, the UK’s largest defence company, sponsored the Oxford Union’s business debate on Thursday.
Beth Smith, Universities Coordinater for the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), stated, “It is ironic and shameful that the Oxford Union, supposedly a forum for free and open debate, is to accept sponsorship from BAE Systems. BAE, one of the world’s largest arms companies, has shown itself unwilling to open itself to public knowledge and information on its secretive arms dealing worldwide.”
She continued, “By taking sponsorship from BAE, the Oxford Union enables the company to present itself as a respectable and legitimate business despite the fact that it sells weapons almost indiscriminately, including to Saudi Arabia.”
On Wednesday, a spokesperson for BAE Systems said, “BAE Systems invests more than £80 million per annum in employee development, work with schools, and skills activity including supporting events such as the Oxford Union debate.”
BAE said, “All defence equipment and services exported from the UK are subject to strict export licences granted by the UK Government. BAE Systems has the most stringent anti-corruption and compliance standards across business generally and we are a recognised leader in business conduct.”
BAE Systems employs 35,000 people in the UK, and is the UK’s largest employer of engineers. The company is on the FTSE 100, and in 2011 had profits of £1.25 billion.
CAAT’s website says, “A notorious recent deal was the sale of 200 Tactica armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. These vehicles were used by Saudi troops helping to suppress pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in March 2011.
Until recently, BAE Systems was blacklisted by OUSU. However, OUSU President David J Townsend said this is no longer the case, explaining, “To avoid the accretion of old policies which may not reflect the views of current students, any policy passed by common room presidents and other representatives in the Council of the Student Union lapses three years after its adoption.”
Some students have criticised the Union’s choice of sponsor. Ellen Gibson, founder of Oxford’s branch of the charity People and Planet, said, “BAE Systems is, in my opinion, one of the most morally disgraceful companies in the world. The arms trade is a dirty business which students of Oxford and members of the Union like myself wish to distance themselves from.”
Yet Catrin Davies, a History and Politics student at St Hilda’s, said, “I don’t see why it’s practically relevant…As far as I’m aware, Union sponsors don’t exercise any particular influence over Union policy.”
The Union was unavailable for comment.