Many were appalled when Lockheed Martin, the notorious US arms manufacturer, was awarded the £150m contract to run the census on behalf of the Office for National Statistics. We have already written a blog about the security of census data, and hopefully assuaged any worries you had on the that front. However, there are further problems to address: problems to do with the ethical nature of Lockheed Martin, which have persuaded a good many people to boycott the census. Here, we want to be honest about this matter, and tell you why we think it is still a good idea to fill in your census.
First, let’s be clear on the nature of Lockheed Martin’s work, and the moral accusations leveled at them. Most controversially, they provided private contract interrogators to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. They are responsible for Trident missiles for both the US and the UK nuclear weapons systems, and are one of three contractors which run the nuclear weapons factory at Aldermaston. 80% of their work is done for the US defence department: they assist more than two dozen American government agencies and are involved in surveillance and data processing for the CIA and FBI. This has lead to some conflicts of interest: as Lockheed’s former vice-president Bruce Jackson chaired the Coalition for the Liberation of Iraq, a bipartisan group formed to promote Bush’s plan for war in Iraq. Bruce Jackson was also involved in corralling support for the war from Eastern European countries, going so far as helping to write their letter of endorsement for military intervention. Not surprisingly, Lockheed also has business relations with these countries. In 2003 Poland shelled out $3.5 billion for 48 F-16 fighter planes, which it was able to buy with a $3.8 billion loan from the US. (See the Census Alert website for more details).
Whatever your views on some of these issues, it’s clear that Lockheed Martin are not exactly pacifists, are sometimes close to some very obvious violations of human rights, and have been very involved in the political preparations for war despite a clear conflict of interests. But they presented a good case to ONS, and gained the contract for the census. The question now is what we, as active, moral, non-war-loving beings, should do about it. To reiterate: the problem isn’t that our data isn’t safe: ONS have ensured that it is. The question is whether it is a good idea to boycott the census because we object to oft immoral nature of Lockheed Martin’s other work.
We at the Census Campaign do not think it is a good idea to boycott the census at all: here we explain why. By boycotting, the idea is that you will express your discontent with ONS’s decision. However, in doing so, you will be directly affecting the funding that comes into your local services. The results from the census are, after all, used to justify resource allocations at a local level: one London borough estimates that over the next ten years, they will lose £22,000 per person who does not complete the Census. That is money lost in schools and hospitals amongst other much in need organisations.
In boycotting, you will also be passing up a vital opportunity to give the government an accurate picture of the UK. This would be particularly bad news for our campaign; for we want the government to recognise how many of us are not religious and tackle state enshrined religious privilege accordingly.
We agree with this online blogger, who points out that a boycott will have a minimal effect on Lockheed Martin as they will get paid for their role in the census regardless of how many people fill it in. However, a boycott is a highly effective way of cutting local services in your area, and ensuring that you are not accounted for in national policies.
These are extremely high costs to make a statement: especially when you can make that statement in other, less harmful, ways. Here are some ideas from the afore mentioned blogger: ‘write to your MP, donate the money which you’ve saved by not getting fined to a campaigning group, meet with others and develop new and creative campaigns’. You can also keep eye on the government, and protest any new contracts it threatens to develop with arms manufacturors.
Whatever approach you choose, fill in your census for the reasons outlined above: and encourage others to do so too.