Arms, torture and the census

IssueApril 2011
News by Gabriel Carlyle

The involvement of US arms giant Lockheed Martin (LM) in this year’s census – due to take place on 27 March – has spurred calls for both a boycott and creative obstruction. One of the world’s largest arms companies, LM makes cluster bombs and Trident nuclear missiles, and is involved in surveillance for both the CIA and the Pentagon.

That its UK subsidiary has been awarded a £150m contract to process the census questionnaires for England and Wales has therefore angered many peace campaigners. (In Scotland, the £18.5m contract went to a subsidiary of the US firm CACI International, which has been linked to the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.)

While some have called for a boycott (an act of civil disobedience, as non-compliance is a crime punishable by a £1,000 fine), the Green Party – which spearheaded opposition to LM’s role – hasn’t, because they say “the census is extremely important and needs to be accurate”. However, others have highlighted the fact that it is possible to impact LM’s profits without breaking the law or creating funding problems for local authorities (whose financial needs are assessed using census data).

Specifically, these campaigners advocate:

  • Not filling the census in online;
  • Obliterating all bar codes, serial numbers and other codes on the form and envelope (using a black pen) to impede automatic checking of your form against the mailing database (writing “Careful: keep pages together; no bar codes!” on the front);
  • Making life difficult for LM’s software by writing outside the boxes provided, and writing things that aren’t easy to categorise (eg “I repair people’s teeth” not “dentist”). According to LM, “unrecognised responses are sent to highly trained officers to code ... a difficult and expensive process”,
  • Writing to the processing centre weeks afterwards if you find you’ve made a “mistake”.
Topics: Arms trade, Census