Students occupied the General Dynamics and Thales stalls, the fifth and tenth largest arms manufacturers respectively, at the University careers fair on Wednesday.
In an open letter, which has attracted over 200 signatures and sent to Sussex and Brighton Universities – who co-hosted the fair – the protestors said: “It is unacceptable that the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton are inviting arms companies including General Dynamics and Thales, companies that profit from this human suffering, to a university event.
‘Both the University of Sussex and the University of Brighton promote themselves on the basis of their progressive values and academic work regarding development and social justice.
‘It is therefore deeply hypocritical of them to lend their legitimacy to arms companies that promote and profit from the international arms trade that is at the heart of so many of the world’s conflicts and human rights violations.”
Thales have been accused of breaching human rights and international law and have a history of selling weapons to repressive regimes including Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, the United Arab Emirates and Colombia.
In 2011, Thales signed a $1.6 billion contract with Israel’s largest military technology firm, Elbit Systems, to develop the Watchkeeper military drone for the UK Government.
Watchkeeper is based on the Elbit Systems Hermes 450 model used extensively in Gaza by the Israeli military.
Commenting at the time John Hilary, Executive Director of the anti-poverty charity War on Want, said: “The British government is, in effect, buying technology that has been ‘field tested’ on Palestinians.”
A third year student protester said: “weapons that were manufactured by Thales were used in the Gaza Massacre in which over 3,000 civilians died, 500 of them children.”
When questioned about why Thales, who paid for the stall shouldn’t be allowed to attend the fair, they said: “Students have democratically voted to endorse the BDS (Boycott and Divestment Sanctions movement against Israel), and the NUS endorses it too.
‘We as a University and as students want to be at the front of working for human rights. We don’t believe that a company which is fundamentally unacceptable to that should be one campus”
Speaking to the Badger Annie Pickering, President of Sussex University Students Union, said: “I support student action that is line with Union policy on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
“In terms of arms companies in general at university careers fair, as a Students’ Union we have no mandate to take any action either way on this. Although, I am personally excited to see students engaging with this issue and bringing it up for discussion.”
In a statement, a University of Sussex spokesperson said: “Students are right to think carefully about what kind of employment they would wish to move into after University – and many will place a great emphasis on moral and ethical considerations, not just early on in their careers, but for the rest of their working lives.
“At Sussex, we have a policy of not making these judgements on behalf of our students on businesses that are authorised to trade within the the UK.
“We strongly believe it’s up to individuals to make their own decisions as well as having the freedom to share their views.”
A spokesperson for Brighton University said: “We believe that our students are responsible adults who are capable of making their own decisions as to which companies they choose to speak to or not speak to in making important personal decisions regarding their own future careers.”