Provost Michael Arthur came under fire at Monday’s General Assembly after admitting he didn’t “know the specifics” of the six-figure funding deal.
The UCL Centre for Ethics & Law receives £10,000 worth of sponsorship per year from BAE Systems, a major supplier of fighter jets and weaponry to the Saudi Arabian government, it has emerged.
Founded in 2009, with BAE as one of six corporate supporters which also included BP and Nestle, the Centre researches “global issues lying at the intersection between ethics and regulatory compliance”. Its mission statement includes a goal to “support the rebuilding of trust between society and business” by nurturing “discussion of ethical conduct” and “global business and human rights”. In the past two years it has staged conferences with titles such as ‘Empowering the Poor’ and ‘International Business Responsibility’.
Sarah Al-Saraj, a UCL student and activist for ‘London Students for Yemen’, confronted the Provost Michael Arthur on the sponsorship during a rare Q&A before Monday’s General Assembly, asking: “Why is the UCL Centre for Ethics sponsored by a company supplying bombs that are dropped on Yemeni civilians?” Following widespread applause in the audience, Mr Arthur replied, “The irony is not lost on me.”
After an admission that he didn’t “know the specifics”, Al-Saraj riposted “but you’re the Provost”, sparking laughter from a large group of the students in Logan Hall. Mr Arthur provided the explanation that “BAE are not just an arms company, they are an aerospace and security company”.
Data from the NGO Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) reveals that BAE Systems is the world’s fourth largest arms-producing firm, fuelling militaries in over 100 countries including Iraq and Saudi Arabia. 95% of its yearly sales – which amount to $23 billion – are in military equipment, including warships, tanks, missiles and small arms ammunition.
In a profile on the company, CAAT states that “BAE’s warplanes are playing a central role in Saudi Arabia’s attacks in Yemen. Its armoured vehicles were used by Saudi Arabia in Bahrain to support the repression of democracy protests in 2011.”
In 2014, BAE won a contract worth £4.4bn to supply 72 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia, some of which were used to bomb Red Cross and MSF hospitals in Yemen. In response to these findings, BAE chairman Sir Roger Carr responded that the firm will only “stop doing it when they tell us to stop doing it … We maintain peace by having the ability to make war and that has stood the test of time”.
Questioned on the nature of BAE’s sponsorship, a spokesman for the Centre for Ethics & Law told Pi Media that the funding “is provided as a lump sum, providing funds for the centre’s activities. It is not tied to specific projects or activities. The Centre’s research, stakeholder outreach and events are completely independent and uninfluenced by any of its sponsors, of which BAE Systems is only one.”
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that UCL received a total of £3.6m in grants from arms companies between 2010 and 2015, with Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and QinetiQ among the most prominent donors. During this period, UCL were granted £195,000 by BAE.