Benjy Goodwin investigates UCL’s funding from arms manufactures
According to a freedom of information request filed by Pi, UCL has continued to receive significant income from investment and research funding from arms manufactures, including BAE systems and Lockheed Martin. The figures appear to suggest UCL has in recent years been increasing its financial involvement with these companies.
The findings follow Pi Media’s report in January that the UCL Centre for Ethics & Law receives funding from BAE systems.
In the past three financial years, UCL has received hundreds of thousands of pounds from companies who have sold arms to Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of forces in Yemen’s Civil War. Some of the biggest contributors are companies that were included in the 2017 US-Saudi Arabia arms deal. These include General Electric and Lockheed Martin, from which UCL has received £98,958 and £75,922 respectively since 2015.
In August 2018, it was reported that a Mark 82 bomb manufactured by Lockheed Martin was used in a coalition airstrike on a school bus in Yemen, killing 40 children and 11 adults. UCL has also received funding from BAE systems which, in recent years, has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia for income, with the kingdom buying one sixth of all the company’s products in 2017/18. BAE has recently agreed a deal with Saudi Arabia worth £10bn for 48 typhoon fighter jets.
“These revelations are appalling, but they are not shocking,” Ibtehal Hussain from the Campaign Against the Arms Trade told Pi Media. “UCL should take action by setting a positive precedent by ending its association with the arms industry.”
The war began in 2015 between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels. It has led directly to the deaths of more than 5,900 civilians, and has forced 3 million people from their homes. Both sides have been repeatedly accused of breaching international humanitarian law, with significant civilian casualties. Most shockingly, it is estimated that up to 80,000 children below the age of 5 have died from malnutrition over the course of the war. This figure is equivalent to the total number of under-fives in Birmingham today.
Although the UK and other western governments support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, several are beginning to reassess their relationships with the gulf state, with Germany halting arms sales in 2018 and the US congress recently voting to withdraw support. This has largely come in response to the international outcry following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, alleged to have been ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
In the UK, the main opposition parties are in favour of an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, whilst the House of Lords international relations committee recently concluded that the British government is “narrowly on the wrong side of international law” over the issue.
The government, however, maintains its support for the war effort. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who visited Yemen over the weekend for peace talks, was revealed to have privately lobbied German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to reverse its arms embargo. According to Der Spiegel, Hunt wrote that he was “very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments.”
UCL’s involvement with the arms trade has been criticised before. A student-led campaign, Disarm UCL, was established in 2009 to campaign against UCL investing in or receiving funding from arms manufacturers. At the time, the university responded that it would make efforts to reduce their financial relationship with such companies. However, the campaign was briefly revived in 2015, following the revelation that UCL had in fact continued to profit from its relationship with arms companies. The latest relations show that UCL has increased its income from the arms trade, with UCL Consultants Ltd. making £88,000 in 2017-2018, compared with just £20,900 in 2014-2015.
Responding to the revelations, a UCL spokesperson said: “Funding from external bodies is essential if we are to carry out vital research to help us solve some of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.
“We are committed to ensuring the highest standards of research integrity across all of our activities and carefully consider all opportunities to ensure they are in line with our research funding ethics policy and consistent with our mission and values.
“All donations and grants are subject to regular review. We always consider any donation or grant in the light of all the circumstances known at the time it is offered.”