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Labour MP Dawn Butler withdraws from Hay festival in sponsorship row
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Labour MP Dawn Butler withdraws from Hay festival in sponsorship row

Labour MP Dawn Butler and author Grace Blakeley are among those who have withdrawn from scheduled appearances at Hay festival over its sponsorship by investment management firm Baillie Gifford.

Butler said in a video posted to X that she was withdrawing from the literary festival because Baillie Gifford is “involved directly or indirectly in technology and arms in Israel”.

Writers Noreen Masud and AK Blakemore, climate activist Tori Tsui and comedian Ania Magliano have also withdrawn from the festival, which begins on Thursday. Blakemore said that the publishing industry “shouldn’t be used to garner prestige by companies that profit from fossil fuels or the ongoing assault on Palestine”.

More than 600 writers and publishing industry professionals have signed a statement by campaign group Fossil Free Books (FFB) which demands Baillie Gifford “divest from the fossil fuel industry and from companies that profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide”.

FFB said that it fully supports authors who “wish to take action at Baillie Gifford-sponsored festivals, as well as those who withdraw or decline their invitations”. As well as Hay, the company also sponsors Edinburgh international book festival, Cheltenham literature festival and the Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction. Edinburgh book festival has confirmed that both Blakemore and Masud were invited but neither will be appearing.

“Like so many charities, we are operating amongst huge financial uncertainty. Sponsorship is a complex ethical space to navigate,” said Hay CEO Julie Finch in a statement. “In all of our funding agreements, we maintain editorial independence.”

According to FFB’s statement, Baillie Gifford has between £2.5bn and £5bn invested in the fossil fuel industry and nearly £10bn in companies with links to Israel’s defence, tech and cybersecurity industries, including Nvidia, Amazon and Alphabet.

Baillie Gifford said that it is a large investor in multinational technology companies such as Amazon, Nvidia and Meta “that have commercial dealings with the state of Israel that are tiny in the context of their overall business”. It also said that it is a small investor in three companies identified as having “connections to the Israeli state or activities in the occupied territories”, and that Baillie Gifford has been “engaging” with those companies.

“We are not a significant fossil fuel investor,” the company added. “Only 2% of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels. This compares to the market average of 11%”.

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Anna Frame, communications director at Canongate Books, who recently joined the Edinburgh festival’s board, said in a post on X that finding festival funding is “hard” and that the money “has to come from somewhere”. Baillie Gifford “are one of the relatively few companies with cash that are also at least trying to do better”.

“We desperately need a broader discussion about the abysmal state of arts funding in this country,” she added. “If you feel the better option is for these festivals to close down than take money from BG, that’s a fair position to take, though I disagree.”

Source: theguardian.com