Baillie Gifford withdraws book festivals sponsorship following activist campaign

A row over the funding of book festivals by asset manager Baillie Gifford has led the Edinburgh-based firm to the verge of withdrawing its sponsorship from all book festivals around the UK following a backlash over its alleged links to fossil fuels and Israel.

Over the past week long-running book festivals at Hay, Edinburgh, Borders, Wigtown and Cheltenham have ended sponsorship deals with the £225 billion investment firm following calls for boycotts from authors.

The activist group Fossil Free Books is calling for the firm to stop investing in carbon-intensive companies and claim that its investments are exacerbating the situation in Gaza.

Compared with most asset managers, long-only Baillie Gifford has one of the lowest levels of investments in carbon intensive industries, amounting to less than 2% of its portfolio compared with an industry average of more than 10%.  It is also a sizeable investor in electric vehicles and other net zero-focussed companies.

James Budden, Baillie Gifford’s marketing and distribution director, said some of the book festivals had become fearful that any demonstrations could turn violent and that this had been a factor in decisions to end their relationships with Baillie Gifford.

“It is difficult to see the obvious link between climate change and the tragedy unfolding in Gaza,” Budden told journalists in Edinburgh on Wednesday. “That is probably a moot point and one on which we disagree.”

“The activists ran a pretty strong campaign to such an extent that the Hay Festival felt that financially it could have been ruinous to carry on with us as one of the key sponsors.”

“They were genuinely afraid of some kind of physical intimidation through disruption and protest at the festival.”

“I think the only tangible output will be a reduction in the funding of book festivals in particular and the arts in general.

“This is certainly not the place that we wanted to get to and I’m not sure it’s the place that the activists or authors wanted to get to either so in that sense it is rather tragic.”

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