Authors raise concerns over Baillie Gifford's sponsorship of Edinburgh International Book Festival 3

Authors raise concerns over Baillie Gifford’s sponsorship of Edinburgh International Book Festival

More than 50 authors due to appear at the Edinburgh International Book Festival have called on the event to drop Baillie Gifford as a sponsor if the firm continues to invest in fossil fuels.

High profile authors such as Ali Smith,  Zadie Smith and Gary Younge, have signed an open letter condemning Baillie Gifford and saying that they stand in “solidarity with those harmed by the climate crisis”. 

They have accused oil and gas firms of “corporate greed” while “millions across the UK suffer from fuel poverty and the cost of living crisis”.

The letter’s signatories have asked the book festival to put pressure on its main sponsor, Baillie Gifford, an investment firm which had approximately £4.5bn invested in companies involved with oil and gas in 2022, as revealed by The Ferret.

The authors have threatened to boycott the 2024 book festival if Ballie Gifford refuses to divest from fossil fuels. The festival said it would carefully consider the concerns raised.

Following our revelation earlier this month, the world famous climate activist, Greta Thunberg, pulled out of an event at the book festival, accusing Baillie Gifford of “greenwashing”. 

She said then: “As a climate activist I cannot attend an event which receives sponsorship from Baillie Gifford, who invest heavily in the fossil fuel industry.”

Baillie Gifford denied being a “significant fossil fuel investor”. 

Writers who signed the letter include Yara Rodrigues Fowler, author of There Are More Things. She said: “This summer has been defined by global wildfires, flooding and extreme heat: the climate crisis is here. In the midst of climate breakdown, Baillie Gifford is investing almost £5bn into the cause of this crisis: companies that profit from the fossil fuel industry.

“Edinburgh International Book festival allowing them to sponsor cultural events gives them a social licence to continue funding the destruction of our only home. The book festival must adopt an ethical sponsorship policy and drop Baillie Gifford as a sponsor next year if they do not end these deadly investments.”

Mikaela Loach, author of It’s Not That Radical: Climate Action To Transform Our World, said: “Edinburgh International Book Festival wouldn’t burn books, so why are they ok with burning the planet?

“Baillie Gifford’s whopping £5bn in investments in corporations making money from the fossil fuel industry is unjustifiable in a climate crisis caused and exacerbated by these same companies who have invested more into climate denial and delay than they have into green energy. Edinburgh International Book festival must stand by their “climate positive” commitment and drop Baillie Gifford as a sponsor.”

Guy Gunaratne, author of Mister, Mister, said: “In recent years the Edinburgh International Book Festival has gone a long way in facilitating conversations about climate and environmental justice, featuring some of the most prominent authors currently writing on the issue.

He added: “For these conversations to go beyond words on the page, they must send a clear message to their sponsors. We call on them to show us that they truly understand the urgency of the situation, and its impact on people’s lives worldwide.”

Baillie Gifford declined to comment on the letter and referred The Ferret to a previous statement which said: “We are not a significant fossil fuel investor. Only two per cent of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. This compares to the market average of 11 per cent.

“Of those companies, some have already moved most of their business away from fossil fuels, and many are helping to drive the transition to clean energy.

Currently, five per cent of our clients’ money is invested in companies whose sole purpose is to develop clean energy solutions.

“We believe in open debate and discussion which is why we are long-term supporters of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.”

Nick Barley, director of Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “Writers are the lifeblood of this festival. We fully acknowledge your concerns about the devastating impact of fossil fuel exploitation on the climate: as individuals and as a charity we firmly agree.”

He added: “For these reasons we promise to think about your letter carefully. Like all arts organisations in the UK, we wouldn’t have enough funds to operate without private sponsorship. We looked very closely at the work of Baillie Gifford and it seems to us that they are in fact investing in companies that are seeking to resolve the crisis.

“I’m proposing that we talk at the festival – with each other and with audience members who share the same concerns.”

This report was updated at 09.59 on 14 August 2023 to add a comment from the book festival.

Photo credit: iStock and Aivita

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