The Careers Service commented that “it is not for the Careers service to act as censor nor to make value judgements about specific employers and/or labour market areas."University of Cambridge & Sir Cam

Barely a sentence into my interview at The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), I was asked whether I was comfortable working in an organisation that experimented on animals. I was surprised but I nodded, telling them what they would want to hear – “If it saves the lives of humans, sure thing.”

The room I waited in before my interview was decorated with intricate models of fighter jets and unrecognisable (but distinctly militaristic) equipment. A stereotypical eight-year-old boy – including myself – would have been thrilled by the sight of them.

Looking back, I’m appalled at myself. I now abhor the thought of joining the ‘defence’ industry – that my value as an employee could boil down to how efficiently I could serve in killing others. I resent how, despite seeing footage of explosions half the size of my college, I could compartmentalise the horrors we regularly see wreaked on the world by western weaponry from the childish toys I saw adorning the walls at DSTL. In the end, I had to withdraw my application for citizenship reasons. But I wanted it.

“Our University careers fairs are frequented by arms corporations such as BAE Systems, Leonardo, and Airbus Defence and Space.”

The naivety of my decision came from a lack of education and understanding of the longstanding global issues involving the companies I was interested in. A short walk around a careers fair reveals why.

Glamour is not a word commonly associated with careers fairs, but a large stall from any prestigious corporation, laden with free pens and bristling with opportunity, has an undeniable allure. Careers fairs – and many other university events – provide the perfect platform for the oil and arms industries to assume the best version of themselves: surrounded by benign, inoffensive companies and smothered with handsome flyers, they appear the gold standard of career opportunities. And we are led down a path of biased representation.

Endorsed by Cambridge University Engineering Society (CUES), BAE Systems’ ‘Capture the Flag’ events promote their work in cyber security, ignoring allegations of supplying mass surveillance technology to “repressive regimes”. When asked, CUES declined to comment on BAE Systems’ involvement with these regimes, but told Varsity “We always endeavour to provide our members with transparent and relevant information regarding every CUES event so that they can make their own informed decisions.” But endorsing this event without mentioning the allegations against BAE Systems does the exact opposite.

“...it is irresponsible for members of the University to support such engagement at careers fairs without providing a more balanced perspective.”

It terrifies me how we students are at such a high risk of walking unwarily into a company whose moral compass does not align with our own. Surely, the University has a responsibility to guard us from this. We all have the right to choose our own careers, but my choice to pursue an internship with DSTL – advertised by the Department of Engineering through their internship newsletter – had not been properly informed. DSTL’s work is a vital part of national security, but their tests on animals are horrifying, and far more extreme than testing done by the cosmetics industry. This is an organisation that tested the lethality of anthrax on sheep, and whose experimentation led to the death of Ronald George Maddison in 1953.

Our University careers fairs are frequented by arms corporations such as BAE Systems, Leonardo, and Airbus Defence and Space. When asked to comment, CUES confirmed that they invite such corporations to their events – along with “companies across a wide variety of engineering-related sectors” – stating that “this is to reflect the diverse interests and degree specialisations of our members, ensuring that everyone has equal access to career opportunities.” However, CUES neglected to comment on the fact that, biennially, the majority of defence employers like these attend the DSEI weapons convention, held in London’s ExCeL centre (currently known as Nightingale Hospital). DSEI is criticised for glorifying war and furthering the disconnect between weaponry and human suffering.

Outside of the UK, the activity of the British defence industry is even more concerning. In 2009, the UK government admitted to supplying weapons used in an assault on the Gaza strip by Israel, a country with numerous reported human rights abuses in the past decade. In 2016, the Government twice admitted to British weapons – some manufactured by BAE – being used by Saudi Arabia in their conflict against Yemen. Each year, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office produces a list of 30 ’Human rights priority countries’ in which the government aims to advance human rights. However, UK companies have sold arms to 29 of those 30 countries in the previous decade.

“...too often, students are encouraged to explore careers at companies with dubious histories...”

Similarly, careers fairs regularly host the likes of BP and Shell, both of whom have lobbied against binding climate policy and been accused of complicity in numerous human rights violations. Indeed, both were at the Careers Service’s ‘Engineering, Science and Technology’ (EST) event in Michaelmas 2019. BP has garnered a reputation for negligence, pleading guilty to 14 criminal charges for its role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. BP’s “wilful misconduct” cost the lives of 11 workers and wreaked unquantifiable environmental damage on ecosystems and coastal industries.

And yet BP regularly promotes itself at University careers fairs, alongside Royal Dutch Shell – a corporation with a sinister human rights record, including complicity with Nigeria’s military in a campaign of killings, torture and rape against protestors, culminating in the execution of the movement’s leaders. Years later, a United Nations assessment revealed continued exposure of locals to oil pollution and declared that Shell’s environmental remediation efforts were insufficient.

Although Shell’s Energy Transition Game (again, hosted by CUES) demonstrates their apparent desire to reach carbon neutral, the oil giant has been accused of spending $22 million on obstructive climate lobbying in 2015 alone. The student body frequently questions the University’s involvement with arms and oil and gas companies, characterised in divestment rallies targeted at colleges, and including CUSU’s ban of firearms – because of the subsequent “implicit approval of their use, despite the links between military and firearms and violence on an international scale” – at the annual Freshers Fair. Likewise, it is irresponsible for members of the University to support such engagement at careers fairs without providing a more balanced perspective.


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When contacted for comment, the Careers Service noted that they offer “an impartial service and as such will engage with any employer whose business is legally valid in the UK.” They went on to express that “Students are free to make their own choices” and that “it is not for the Careers service to act as censor nor to make value judgements about specific employers and/or labour market areas.” They emphasised their respect for “members of the University community who feel strongly about the presence of certain organisations at University organised events” and acknowledged the student protests that took place at their EST careers fair in Michaelmas 2019 that “went on for several hours.”

But, too often, students are encouraged to explore careers at companies with dubious histories, without the knowledge needed to make an informed and balanced judgement. The Careers Service commented that they strive to “provide a balanced range of organisations at a given event”, but in doing so they are legitimising the actions of corporations like Shell and BAE, and letting students walk blindly into roles which could have potentially damaging consequences for our global society. Arms and oil corporations do not have the right to attend our careers fairs or sponsor our societies without intense scrutiny and the availability of balanced information.

Divestment has gained incredible traction in the University community, demonstrating our knowledge of these global issues and our desire to change them. Now is the time to shift our attention and, in a sense, to ‘divest’ ourselves.

The University have been contacted for comment.

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