This story came my way via Tim O’Reilly’s Twitter feed this evening. I retweeted it after reading it, then tweeted my own tweet. I did neglect, however, to take account of the date before doing so. In the event, the article in question was dated 2007. Essentially, it accused a major science-journal publisher, which publishes amongst others the hallowed Lancet, of also being involved in the business of arms fairs. This paragraph in particular captured my gobsmacked attention:
Through its subsidiary, Reed Exhibitions, Reed Elsevier runs arms fairs in Britain, the United States, the Middle East, Brazil, Germany and Taiwan. The same subsidiary runs Lancet conferences, including the forthcoming one in Asia. The Lancet told us how the fairs have in the past included cluster bombs, which are especially dangerous to civilians because they fail to explode and thus create minefields.6The Lancet has consistently spoken out against cluster bombs. Last year’s fair in the US included torture equipment sold by Security Equipment Corporation, who use the grotesque slogan ‘Making grown men cry since 1975.’ The Lancet has long been a leader in condemning torture.
Which was when I then resorted to Wikipedia to see if I could discover anything else. This section described the current situation as follows:
Members of the medical and scientific communities, which purchase and use many journals published by Reed Elsevier, agitated for the company to cut its links to the arms trade. Two UK academics, Dr. Tom Stafford of Sheffield University and Dr Nick Gill, launched petitions calling on Reed Elsevier to stop organising arms fairs. A subsidiary, Spearhead, organised defence shows, including an event where it was reported that cluster bombs and extremely powerful riot control equipment were offered for sale.
In February 2007, Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, published an editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, arguing that Reed Elsevier’s involvement in both the arms trade and medical publishing constituted a conflict of interest. He suggested that if academics began to disengage with Reed Elsevier, the company would be likely to end their arms fairs, as arms fairs only comprise a small proportion of their business.
On 1 June 2007, Reed Elsevier announced that they would be exiting the Defence Exhibition business during the second half of 2007.
This means that the company no longer organises arms fairs around the world. The decision followed a high-profile campaign, co-ordinated 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.
So far, so good. And there was I, kind of feeling a bit guilty for retweeting Tim’s tweet without doublechecking the date and context of the article it referred to.
Which is when a thought did come to my mind: what if Reed’s retreat from the arms business was a tactical one? What if they continued in, say, related areas?
No. Surely not.
And really, I’m pretty sure it isn’t the case. Corporate governance wouldn’t allow a company like Reed Elsevier to retreat so publicly from a position once held so unhappily – and criticised by so many – only for it to once again take up the reins in related areas.
Here’s a link, hidden under an anodyne TLA on Reed Elsevier’s homepage. The exhibition ISC West is a security exhibition which “showcases technology and solutions for Law Enforcement, Urban/Border Protection, Campus Safety, and Transportation Security” and includes, in its Global Expo section, “more than 150 international companies featuring leading-edge security solutions from around the world”.
Here you can get a flavour of 2012′s edition on the exhibition’s own Public Security & Safety webpage. As it coolly points out:
If your job is to protect our borders, towns, cities, schools, healthcare facilities, government institutions, and cargo facilities, Public Security & Safety Expo has all the solutions available for you to research and source. Hundreds of targeted products and services for securing homeland, municipalities, and infrastructure – in all sectors including:
- Law Enforcement
- Campus Security
- Urban/Border Protection
- Air, Land, Sea and Rail Security
I guess, again, that this is really rather small beer compared to the full-blown arms fairs which used to be the case in the bad old days of 2007 – but even so, hobnobbing with security professionals from 900 companies in total – more than 150 of which appear to come from outside the US – hardly seems to my inexpert eye to be the most compatible activity with that of publishing medical and scientific journals.
What’s more, there’s a helluva lot of money involved in ISC West. This much, for example:
[...] According to the event’s website, the show’s attendees represent more than $50 billion in purchasing power and more than 50 percent of buyers there do not attend any other major security event.
That’s a lot of money out there for those involved simply to be spending on “access control solutions”, “closed circuit television” and “wireless transmitters”.
So what is Reed Elsevier – a medical- and scientific-journal publisher – doing with a security-exhibition business which allegedly gathers into its fold those kinds of dollars? If truth be told, at least according to their web presence, at least as I saw it today, they facilitate lots of other exhibitions too – ranging from jewellery to books and production machines. It’d be churlish and unfair on my part, therefore, not to recognise the breadth of their offer – or to give the impression it was more focussed on security than any other activity. But without having the resource to corroborate the data, I do wonder if any other exhibition the company organises attracts anywhere close to $50 billion worth of purchasing power – if, indeed, this figure is an accurate one.
One final thought. If Reed Elsevier’s exhibitions arm was looking to manage this event as simply one more arrow in its quiver of corporate offerings, mixed in with jewellery, book and production-machine expos, I don’t suppose I could find it in myself to argue – at least commercially – with such an approach. Fair dos, in fact. Spread your risks; dabble in this and that; ensure shareholder interests are protected … it’ll be, after all, a complex business of contradictory overheads, the cycles of which will need to be balanced very carefully.
Except that, sadly, it wouldn’t appear to be the case. This, for example, on Reed’s expansion into the security-exhibition business in Mexico:
Expo Seguridad Mexico, Mexico Safety Expo, ISC and ISC Brasil will collaborate on the development of world-class content and customer value for exhibitors and visitors by extending strong customer relationships across borders. Both Expo Seguridad Mexico’s and Mexico Safety Expo’s established strategic partnerships and knowledge of the Latin American marketplace will provide an additional gateway for North American, Central and South American physical security and safety sectors.
“We are truly excited about the addition of Expo Seguridad Mexico and Mexico Safety Expo into our global portfolio of ISC events and look forward to the co-location with ROC-NFPA’s Mexico Fire Expo”, said Ed Several, Senior Vice President & General Manager, ISC Events. “Together, we will leverage our mutual and combined strengths for this exciting and strategic opportunity to support Mexico’s thriving security marketplace. We are well poised to help customers create an increased profile among international buyers and open new opportunities in this part of the world.”
ISC Events are part of Reed Exhibitions’ 13 physical, safety and IT security events on five continents: Asia; Africa; Europe; N. America; S. America. The ISC portfolio consists of ISC West, an annual event, held in Las Vegas, NV, USA showcasing the newest products, technologies and solutions to a global audience of security professionals; ISC Solutions, offering the regional Northeast security marketplace with an educational and exhibition platform in New York; ISC Brasil, an annual event in São Paulo, showcasing physical security technologies and products for the South America marketplace and a portfolio of One2one Summits, high-level, exclusive meetings between buyers and sellers to solve specific security needs;
Now it’s clear from all the above that Reed Elsevier and its subsidiaries don’t just do security. But a trend does seem to be pretty clear – and the temptation to follow the money must be difficult to resist. Is this a case of that tactical retreat I spoke of earlier – or is it simply a case of a completely and appropriately above-the-board set of business relationships which don’t impact, in any way, on the integrity of the company’s other publishing-related activities?
I do hope the latter is the case, of course. It’s just that alleged figure of $50 billion that gets me. It’s an awfully grand amount of money for its expo attendees to be spending on innocuous tech.
Anyone from the company care to comment on, correct or clarify any of the above?