The public face of international gun-running

In March this year, as in 2001, Lockheed Martin UK, a subsidiary of the world’s second largest arms manufacturer, will be helping to run the census. Their specific role, contractually valued at £150 million, will be “delivering data capture and processing capability” for the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

This seems innocent enough, but whilst the job description is vague to the point of obfuscation, it speaks clearly of a wider phenomenon in the arms trade. The deeper you delve into the shady world of linguistic analysis the more you realise that clarity and precision are at best apparent, and usually embargoed in a leaking vessel of anodyne, corporate aphorism. This is all in aid of lending legitimacy to an industry that deserves none.

This is systematic across the arms trade. Most people tend to have moral qualms with a sector whose profit, indeed whose very _raison d’être_ rests on the production and sale of weapons to an ever-expanding market. Regions blighted by a geo-politics of mutual suspicion, military escalation and war are, for the arms dealer, ‘emerging markets’ to be saturated with ‘defense solutions’ and ‘advanced technology systems’ before the other guy gets there first.

The main problem with this line of work is that it is morally and politically reprehensible. Lockheed Martin, for example, are best known for their production of cluster munitions, F-16 jets and Trident Missiles. Their arms sales to Bahrain and other repressive regimes are an ongoing controversy -surely outside the semantic jurisdiction of ‘defence’ contracting.

Most civil corporations will endeavour towards legitimacy in the public mind: achievable perhaps through a policy of corporate social responsibility; paying above the minimum wage; or some degree of worker representation. The arms sector is similar, in this respect. However the type of legitimacy they seek is qualitatively different.

Whilst a company selling a range of financial services will actively promote itself, shouting above the rafters about how its services are the best, the arms trade aims towards a lower threshold of legitimacy, mimicking the language, imagery, and even actions of generic corporatism, not in order to stand out, but rather to sneak under the radar of political and ethical interrogation.

Running the census is one such legitimising foray into the civil sector that Lockheed Martin –whose 2008 military sales amounted to nearly $30 billion, over 70 percent of total sales figures of $42 billion- are undertaking in 2011. They helped run the 2001 UK census, as well as the 2006 census in Canada.

In both these cases individuals and groups raised their voices against what they saw as an unacceptable collusion between the government and one the largest arms companies in the world; this year will be no different. But the price of civil disobedience is alarmingly high: refusing to complete the census on conscientious grounds is a criminal offence under the [Census Act 1920](http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo5/10-11/41/section/8), carrying the possibility of a £1,000 fine.

Perhaps the most troubling thing of all is the number of people who are completely unaware of the integral involvement of the arms industry in running the census. This is sadly unsurprising.

The arms industry tends to masquerade in euphemism: ‘defence contracting’, ‘aerospace’, and ‘advanced technology’ are much more likely descriptors to emanate from the official spokesperson than the more honest –and less politically viable- ‘arms trader’ or ‘weapons manufacturer’.

Indeed, the name and corporate branding of Lockheed Martin gives nothing away on the surface level -which is, not by accident, the only level most people in this country will ever interact with it.

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This is why ‘[Count Me Out](http://www.countmeout.me.uk)’, an open network opposing Lockheed’s involvement in the 2011 census, has launched a campaign bringing together groups and individuals from across the UK to share information, raise awareness and support action against it.

Students, many of whom will be coming home to their halls to find Census forms awaiting them, are unlikely to be much better informed than the public at large, and yet the links between the arms industry and the universities have never been stronger: if there is one environment more important in which to build awareness and resistance, it is surely on campus. After all, engineering graduates are the life-blood of so many of these companies; drying up the supply of new recruits can deal them a crippling blow.

An outright boycott of the census is unlawful, and therefore must be the choice of the individual. Still, Count Me Out is providing information and resources on the full spectrum of actions people can take. Again, campus is without a doubt one of the most fruitful environments in which to organise, demonstrate, and take action against unethical corporate practice.

But concerns about the census have been raised for a number of reasons. The understanding that collated census data will be used to increase public services in socially deprived areas -one of the chief arguments from progressives who contend that cooperation is a civic imperative- is contested by the fact that the UK census asks no questions about income, surely a vital piece of information for any allocation of public services.

Every successful civil contract Lockheed Martin wins provides it with a vacuous credibility which is in turn used to secure future contracts. This cycle must be interrupted by an articulate and informed public. This is where Count Me Out hopes to make a difference. Only our collective refusal will hold Lockheed to account; only our civil disobedience will ensure that no census is run by the arms industry in this country again.

It is time to take action, and it is time to say “count me out”.

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