Portsmouth Students Against the Arms Trade (P.S.A.A.T) staged a protest against BAE Systems inclusion at the yearly University of Portsmouth Graduate Recruitment Fair.
A large number of students turned up to the event on Wednesday 12th October at the Guildhall to rally against the inclusion of BAE Systems, who were offering students information on careers advice with the firm.
The company, who offer engineering and project management jobs to graduates, were situated at stall ten in the building’s Harlequin room.
The controversial group have always garnered unwanted attention from anti-arms groups. As well as being one of the largest commercial engineering companies in the UK, BAE also supply arms and military vehicles to countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia and Iraq for profit. Many of the countries that the firm does business with have well documented histories of repression and human rights abuse.
At approximately 11am, students from the group P.S.A.A.T set up banners and a stall on the steps of the Guildhall, while other members inside the building proceeded to peacefully hand out an ‘Arms Trade Factsheet’ to any student who approached BAE’s stall.
Speaking about peoples’ reactions to BAE’s presence on campus, P.S.A.A.T’s media spokeswoman, Steph Enderby, said: “As soon as people I work with or who I study with heard arms companies were going to be at this Careers Fair today, they were concerned, they’re concerned that students aren’t going to get much information about this.”
As Enderby speaks, police and members of the Guildhall team attempted to move the group on. The rabble that surrounds the Guildhall however, are less than prepared to give up their right to be heard. The message from the group is loud and clear – Arms Dealers aren’t welcome on campus. The real question that the group want students to ask themselves is: “What type of company do you want to work for? Do you want to work for a company that are poorly regulated, with a poor reputation and that’s not ethical?
“They’re selling arms to companies that are using these arms against their own people.” Enderby laments, exasperated that students aren’t aware of BAEs troubling history.
This is not the first time that BAE Systems have encountered the resistance of University of Portsmouth campaigners. In 2013, the company shied off from an event at the University in fear of protests at a recruitment event. The UK’s largest arms company feared that plans by a similar student group to P.S.A.A.T would disrupt the event too much.
“There was a report done in 2014 of countries with cause for concern and out of the 28 countries that were mentioned in this report, we sold arms to 18 of them. That is pretty freighting and deeply concerning.”
According to BAE’s recruitment profile at the Grad Fair, they claim to offer a two-year ‘Graduate Development Framework’ for people who are passionate in business or engineering and are looking for ‘real world challenges’.
Yet, what’s not listed in the legal arms trade company’s brochure is its numerous criminal fines and associations to crooked governments.
On this point, 22-year-old Enderby, an International Development Student, becomes even more animated. “There was a report done in 2014 of countries with cause for concern and out of the 28 countries that were mentioned in this report, we sold arms to 18 of them. That is pretty freighting and deeply concerning.”
She continues to explain: “I think a lot of people that are attracted to BAE, particularly from the University, are largely ignorant about their reputation. BAE were fined 400 million dollars in 2010 by the court of justice – that’s a lot of money. To the University, do we want to be affiliated with a company like this?”
The troubling relationship between Arms Companies, such as BAE, and universities is nothing new. The University of Southampton also have a link to the firm, with students there demoing the visit of BAE’s Sir Roger Carr last year.
When asked about its troubling relationship to BAE, the University of Portsmouth released a statement saying: “The University is proud to have strong ties with many local, regional, national and international employers, institutions and organisations.
“Our policies across all areas of our business, from research to investment to partnerships, support the best interests not just of our staff and student body, but those of the city and the region which, together with our partners, we are proud to be helping thrive.”
On the relationship between University and the engineering firm, Enderby said: “£300 million goes into our [University’s] research. [We] don’t feel this appropriate, we don’t feel like this is a healthy association to have.”
“Students should make an educated choice. At the moment, BAE and the University aren’t giving them that educated choice, the University is largely biased towards BAE, due to the fact that they’re sponsored by them. This isn’t right.
“The next step is educating students about this and hopefully agreeing as a student body that we don’t want to be associated with BAE.”
The students from P.S.A.A.T were eventually asked to exit the fair. As a final peaceful protest against BAE’s presence, the students staged a ‘die-in’ on the steps of the Guildhall. Much like planking, the students remained frozen in a death pose in order to replicate some of the lives taken by BAE’s weapons of war.
The event, which was organised by Purple Door saw almost 2,000 students in attendance. BAE Systems refused to comment on the protest at the Graduate Fair.