A children’s science festival has been condemned for partnering with a US arms firm branded an “industry of death” and linked to alleged war crimes in Yemen.
Fife Science Festival has been running over the past two weekends to promote science to families but the involvement of American multinational Raytheon has prompted calls for the event to rethink its links to the arms sector.
Critics include Campaign Against Arms Trade who said Raytheon has a “shameful and immoral history of arming human rights abusing regimes and profiting from war” while Save The Children accused the firm of “hypocrisy”.
In reply, the festival said it was “proud” to work with the US company.
Raytheon has a factory in Glenrothes where it employs around 600 people. It is a significant contributor to the Scottish economy with exports since 2002 worth at least £500m.
But the firm has been mired in controversy because it makes laser guidance systems for Paveway IV missiles that have been used in Gaza and Yemen, prompting protests outside its factory.
In Yemen’s war, Paveway IV missiles have been widely used by the Royal Saudi Air Force against Houthi rebels but there have been scores of war crime allegations after smart bombs hit civilian sites.
Around 6000 children have been killed or maimed so far in Yemen’s war and the UN is investigating allegations of war crimes.
The Fife Science Festival is run by Dundee Science Centre which promotes science to families.
Last weekend there was a family event in Glenrothes while another was due to take place in Cowdenbeath yesterday.
According to Dundee Science Centre’s Facebook page, Raytheon has “robots, games and quadcopters for you to try out at both of our Science Adventures!”
Last year’s Fife Science Festival proved popular with more than 4000 people attending but critics said Raytheon should not be invited to participate in events for children.
Mark Kaye, a conflict adviser with Save The Children who has visited Yemen, accused Raytheon of “hypocrisy”.
He added: “22 million people (in Yemen) need humanitarian assistance including 11 million children. The health system is on the brink of collapse. We suspect that every 10 minutes a Yemeni child dies from hunger, and diseases you could treat easily with the right medicines.
“Around 6000 children have been killed or maimed as a result of the violence, and that’s on both sides. The majority of child fatalities are a direct result of airstrikes and that’s because airstrikes are happening in urban areas – the targeting of public spaces and even public events.
“There’s a huge level of hypocrisy when you have an arms supplier who are supplying weapons to the Saudi-led coalition, teaching children about science while at the same time the weapons they sell are probably in reality being used to bomb schools. And we’ve seen in Yemen the bombing of schools, and we’ve seen the bombing of hospitals.
“We’ve seen children killed as they walk to school, children killed in hospital looking for treatment. We’ve seen children killed at weddings, children killed at funerals – there is no normal part of Yemeni life where a child is safe. There’s something deeply disturbing about that.”
Raytheon should not be allowed to use important events like these to try to whitewash the terrible consequences of its awful business and normalise its appalling arms sales. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said Raytheon is “the last company that should be taking part in a family-friendly event, when their weapons are responsible for so much misery around the world”.
He continued: “Raytheon should not be allowed to use important events like these to try to whitewash the terrible consequences of its awful business and normalise its appalling arms sales.”
Scottish Greens education spokesperson Ross Greer MSP called on all science festivals to rethink their involvement with arms companies,.
He said: “This is yet another appalling example of the arms industry’s underhand attempts to influence children and young people, aided by publicly-funded organisations who should have nothing to do with this industry of death.
“I’d urge parents and schools to focus on getting young people experience of science and technology in areas which help to build a better world, rather than destroy the one we have.”
Peter Grant, the SNP MP for Glenrothes, has attended Fife Science Festival and said he has regularly made calls in parliament for a ban on arms sales to both Israel and Saudi Arabia and that Raytheon is aware of his views.
He added: “I strongly support the need to change UK and International law to prohibit the sale of weapons to countries with an unacceptable record of human rights abuses or violations of international law.
“As well as its military contracts Raytheon seeks to develop civilian applications for cutting edge technology. When I attended the Fife Science Festival it was these civilian applications I saw being demonstrated.”
However, in reply to criticism Dundee Science Festival defended Raytheon and said the company has made a “positive contribution” to the festival.
Rebecca Erskine, Head of Development at Dundee Science Centre, said Fife Science Festival has been working with a number of local companies and organisations since its launch in 2011.
She added: “We work with partners who are passionate about public engagement, whether highlighting the range of careers which might be open to local school pupils or simply providing fun and engaging activities to the hundreds of families who attend our events each year.
“As a company which delivers workshops and activities within local schools throughout the year, we are proud of our association with Raytheon in Glenrothes who make a positive contribution to the festival.
“The games and challenges which they tailor to family audiences play a key role in our drive to promote STEM subjects including electronics and engineering, particularly fitting during 2018, the Year of Engineering.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Raytheon is the third biggest arms company in the world, with 95 percent of its business coming from arms sales.
Raytheon has sold missiles to Israel and Saudi Arabia and describes itself as “the world’s premier missile maker, providing defensive and offensive weapons for air, land, sea and space”.
Its Glenrothes factory is also involved in the production of Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles, which have been used in Syria.
The US arms giant has also taught Scots schoolchildren how to build drones and offered site visits and work experience at its Glenrothes factory.
In April, an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 20 people at a wedding – including the bride – in northern Yemen.
One report said fragments of the bomb with a serial number revealed it was an American-made GBU-12 Paveway II guided bomb, allegedly made by Raytheon.
An air strike in the capital Sanaa last weekend killed four people at a petrol station.
Raytheon declined to comment.
A version of this story was published by The Sunday Post on 3 June 2018.