BAE’s decision to bring private security to careers fairs as “observers” raises concerns for the welfare of students wishing to protest.
This year there have been a number of protests at careers fairs. These have been organised by students angry at the university careers service promoting arms companies at these events. All the protests this year have been entirely non-violent both at Warwick and all similar protests nationwide. The most disruptive incident this year was a stunt where 11 students dressed as grim reapers stood silently next to arms company stalls to illustrate the lethality of the arms companies’ products, these protesters were swiftly removed from the fair by Warwick security and the police in a matter of minutes. We are indeed fortunate to have police officers that take their duty to protect the peace so seriously that they will take time out from patrolling the streets to save Warwick students and staff from being subjected to the horrors of non-violent protest.
However BAE systems, the UK’s largest arms company, which has exhibited twice at careers fair at Warwick this year seems to feel that Warwick’s security is insufficient. An internal BAE memo leaked earlier this year read “Following a meeting this afternoon with [name deleted] the way security is managed at careers fairs will be reviewed. The decision has been taken to provide additional BAE Systems security at events considered to be a risk, in particular Sheffield, Birmingham, Leeds, Warwick, Lancaster, UCLAN.”
Should we be worried about BAE bringing additional security with them to campus? Perhaps so, BAE does not have an exemplary history in dealing with its critics. BAE has in fact been caught twice spying on the peaceful Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) organisation and collected information on its members, activities and stolen confidential legal advice given to CAAT. Yet university appears not to take issue with companies such as BAE bringing their own security with them. Asked for comment the university spokesman Peter Dunn said “Security on the campus is undertaken by the security staff, they deal with all the student activity, staff and visitors. Occasionally where an outside organisation has concerns for their staff safety they may, and sometimes do, have their representatives on campus to observe our security team’s operation, advise their own staff, and liaise between their own staff and our own security team. If the University security team needs any external support we would seek that from the police. Security team are all SIA registered and operate to this high standard.” Unfortunately it seems to me that it would be naïve to believe that security personnel brought in by a company being protested against would only observe. It seems obvious that security personnel employed by BAE systems might not make the welfare of students their priority and could not be as even handed as the police or Warwick security but could pose a welfare risk to students protesting given the company’s past attempts to investigate, infiltrate and disrupt anti-arms trade campaigns. It also seems worrying that BAE feels the need for added security when students have only protested peacefully.
Asked for comment Richard Hamer, education partnerships director for BAE Systems said “BAE Systems has never indicated that it is not satisfied with the security provided at UK university careers fairs. BAE Systems representatives at Campus recruitment events are typically recent young graduates from these institutions. We value our links with Warwick, and its undergraduate students. BAE Systems has a great deal to offer talented graduates. We train more skilled engineers in the UK than any other company and provide careers full of opportunity. BAE Systems has always hired and trained the very best people and it is investment like this that keeps us, and the UK, at the forefront of technology and engineering across the world.” Sadly the evidence of the leaked memo seems to contradict the claim that BAE is satisfied with security provisions at careers fair but instead sees the peace campaigners as posing a risk. There is also a black irony that as BAE says they have “a great deal to offer talented graduates”, in the UK that may mean a salary and a job but elsewhere in the world its products are used to oppress and murder students in places like East Timor or Palestine. I wonder how much BAE values its links with the undergraduates protesting against the company’s presence on campus, or student union has a policy of asking for the exclusion of arms companies from the university on account of their human rights abuses.
Ed Callow, Welfare officer for the Students Union put it simply “Ed Callow “Unless there has been a sudden outbreak of students launching violent assaults on arms company representatives that I’m unaware of I really cannot see the need for these companies to start bringing their own private security onto UK university campuses. Arms companies who come to Warwick already have Warwick security’s presence to ensure that careers events run smoothly and the students union and the students union has a very good working relationship with this service of the university. On the plus side, if you can call it that, this news does appear to show that student protest against the presence of arms companies at UK universities is finally beginning to have an effect.”
The university needs to decide whether it wants its security team and the police looking out for students on campus or if can trust an arms company with a worrying history to bring their own security staff, to act fairly and look after the welfare of students and allowing their right to protest.