By Chris Browne
Stop the involvement of arms companies in the operation of the census – support our boycott.
Lockheed Martin UK, a subsidiary of the world’s largest arms manufacturer, will be helping to run this month’s census. Its role, contractually valued at £150m, will be “delivering data capture and processing support services” for the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Lockheed Martin has helped run a number of censuses in the past, including the UK’s in 2001 and Canada’s in 2006. But it is not to be mistaken for just another civil contractor.
Lockheed Martin is best known for its production of cluster munitions, F-16 jets and Trident Missiles. It is one of three contractors that run the nuclear weapons facility at Aldermaston, and has been a beneficiary of both the US’s bloated military industrial complex, and the “war on terror” for the past 10 years.
It has sold arms to the repressive Saudi and Bahraini regimes,, but perhaps most controversial was its provision of private contract interrogators to Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib – the site of the infamous prisoner abuse scandal.
It has been variously described as an “advanced technology company”, and a “global security company”; but its core business is undeniably military in focus.
In 2009 its military sales amounted to over $33bn.
And despite the global recession, the top 100 arms companies managed to increase their overall 2008 sales by more than £9bn. Having overtaken BAE Systems as the world’s largest arms producer, Lockheed has definitely led the trend.
In the context of these figures, Lockheed’s £150m census contract may seem of minimal importance. The problem is, every successful census contract Lockheed wins gives it credibility that is in turn used to secure future contracts. This is a cycle that must be interrupted.
With this in mind, Count Me Out, an open network opposing Lockheed’s involvement in the census, has launched a UK-wide campaign. People from around the country with a healthy attitude of creative dissent are engaging with us. Following on from this weekend’s day of e-action and local protest, “alternative census forms” are being submitted, and a full-scale boycott is planned.
For the last UK census, 6,100 incidences of refusal were reported by the ONS, of which 38 were prosecuted. While this percentage (0.6%) may be comforting to those considering non-cooperation, the price of civil disobedience is still alarmingly high: refusing to complete the census is a criminal offence under the Census Act 1920, carrying the possibility of a £1,000 fine.
Nothing speaks worse of a democratic system than when the conscientious objection of its citizens renders them criminals in the eyes of the law. But the most troubling thing for dissenters is the number of people who are still completely unaware of the integral involvement of the arms industry in running our census.
The census is too valuable a resource to be tarnished by the political manoeuvrings of an illegitimate industry. If the government refuses to consider the impoverished ethical record of corporations when it contracts with them, then it falls to us to offer a loud, articulate corrective. For a better census; for an ethical census, thousands of us are saying: “Count me out.”