Reed Elsevier

Campaign successs: Reed Elsevier sells international arms fairs

Picture of child soldier with the caption “Reed Elsevier - Promoting arms sales, death and suffering”

On Friday 1st June 2007, Reed Elsevier announced that it would pull out of the international arms fair business. The decision followed a high-profile campaign, coordinated by CAAT, which highlighted the incompatibility of Reed's involvement in the arms trade and their position as the number one publisher of medical and science journals and other publications.

CAAT welcomed the decision and applauded the board of Reed Elsevier for recognising the concerns of its stakeholders [1]. The decision showed that the arms trade has no place within a reputable business. (Read more in the August 2007 edition of CAAT News magazine.)

In a statement, Chief Executive of Reed Elsevier Sir Crispin Davis, said "it has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors have very real concerns about our involvement in the defence exhibitions business. We have listened closely to these concerns and this has led us to conclude that the defence shows are no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier's position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal and business content."

At the Reed Elseveir Annual General Meeting in April 2008, the company announced that it hadn't renewed its contract to organise Taiwan's TADTE arms fair and had sold IDEX, which takes place in Abu Dhabi, to the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company. On 29th May it was announced that the remaining three identified arms fairs, including London's DSEI arms fair, had been sold to Clarion Events.

How the campaign was won

Read more below about what happened to persuade Reed Elsevier to leave the arms trade.

Healthcare professionals spoke out

Three pages of letters from doctors and healthcare groups, including the Royal College of Physicians, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Doctors for Human Rights, Medsin, and Doctors for Iraq, were published in The Lancet, Reed's flagship medical journal. The letters said that Reed Elsevier's commercial interest in the arms trade undermined the journal's efforts to improve health worldwide. Read the Guardian article.

The letters followed widespread criticism by other health professionals. Richard Smith, former editor of the BMJ (British Medical Journal), called on researchers and authors to boycott the world’s largest publisher of scientific and medical journals in order to pressure the company to divest itself of holdings in the arms trade. Writing in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Dr Smith argued that it is hypocritical for a company that publishes health journals to promote arms sales. Smith's article prompted BMJ editors, Charles Young and Fiona Godlee, to write their own editorial in the BMJ saying "the scientific world will no longer tolerate its warmongering and health damaging business activities".

In September 2005, editors of The Lancet were some of the first professionals to call on the company “to divest itself of all business interests that threaten human, and especially civilian, health and well-being”.

Reed deemed an unethical investment

In February 2007 the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust announced that it was selling all of its nearly £2 million worth of shares in the company in protest at Reed Elsevier’s continued involvement in the arms trade. It also emerged that F&C Management had divested from the company and had removed Reed Elsevier from its list of ethical investments for its stewardship funds. Read our press release.

Academics condemned Reed Elsevier

In an open letter to the Times Higher Education Supplement on March 1st 2007, 138 academics from 17 countries called on Reed Elsevier to cease all involvement in arms fairs. Amongst those who signed the letter were Noam Chomsky, Michael Atiyah (one of the world’s leading mathematicians) and Rhona Macdonald, Senior Editor of the Lancet. Many of the signatories are regular contributors to academic journals owned by Reed Elsevier, often acting for free as referees for articles. Read the full text of the letter and list of signatories here (pdf, opens in new window).

Two petitions, set up by Dr Tom Stafford and Dr Nick Gill, gathered nearly 1000 signatures. Other academics voiced their concerns in some of Reed’s key publications. Dr Paul Chatterton and Dr David Featherstone of Leeds and Liverpool Universities respectively wrote a compelling editorial in the journal Political Geography, owned by Reed Elsevier. They made the point that Reed Elsevier’s main argument, that organising arms fairs is an entirely legal business practice, didn’t begin to address concerns about the ethical status of the arms trade. Furthermore, they said that this argument failed to address how Reed Elsevier’s involvement in the arms trade could be squared with the company’s status as a signatory to the UN Global Compact, which sets voluntary corporate responsibility standards for promoting best practice in human rights. How could this hold water, they asked, when the company solicits clients from some of the world’s most repressive regimes?

Prize-winning authors called on organisers of the London Book Fair to stop running arms fairs

In March 2006, a group of thirteen internationally renowned writers, including A.S Byatt, Ian McEwan and Nick Hornby called upon Reed Elsevier, organisers of the London Book Fair, to end their involvement in the global arms trade. The group, which included two winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature and six winners of the Man Booker Prize, signed a public letter, published in the Times Literary Supplement. Read our press release.

Reed Elsevier's Annual General Meeting

On Tuesday 17th April 2007, Reed Elsevier held its Annual General Meeting (where shareholders meet board members to discuss the company’s activities). CAAT token shareholders went into the meeting question the board about their arms trade involvement, while other CAAT campaigners held a peaceful protest outside the AGM.

Weekly vigils held outside Reed Elsevier's headquarters

The London Catholic Worker held weekly vigils outside Reed Elsevier's headquarters.

Note 1: a caveat in the congratulations to the company is that Reed Elsevier did not include the Shot Show in its list for disposal. Reed's position is that "SHOT is not a defence industry exhibition. It is a long-established event in the United States where sporting goods, including sporting guns, are on show to the trade that serves the hunting and outdoor leisure community. A section of the exhibition also caters for security and law enforcement agencies. SHOT is owned by the National Shooting Sports Foundation." (email from Reed Elsevier, 15 June 2007)

Information about Shot Show is available on its website. Additional information available on the web includes a video tour.

Page updated 9 March 2009
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