Edinburgh International Book Festival ends Baillie Gifford sponsorship

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has ended its 20-year funding partnership with sponsors Baillie Gifford following pressure from climate campaigners.

The investment company, which is based in Edinburgh, has been criticised by campaign group Fossil Free Books for its investments in fossil fuels.

The group has previously claimed the company “currently has between £2.5-5 billion invested in the fossil fuel industry and nearly £10 billion invested in companies with direct or indirect links to Israel’s defence, tech and cybersecurity industries”.

More than 50 authors and and event chairs taking part in last year’s festival signed an open letter demanding organisers find alternative sponsors if the investment management firm did not divest billions of cash.

The letter came in the wake of climate activist Greta Thunberg pulling out of an appearance at last year’s event after accusing Baillie Gifford of “greenwashing”.

Leading writers including Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Gary Younge also threatened to boycott this year’s event if no action was taken.

Jenny Niven, chief executive of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “It is with great regret that our board of trustees and Baillie Gifford have collectively agreed to end our partnership.

“We are hugely grateful to the firm for its considerable support over two decades, including through some challenging times for the festival, and we are proud of what we’ve achieved together during that time.

“The pressure on our team has simply become intolerable. We have a major global festival starting in 10 weeks’ time and we need to focus all of our efforts and energy on delivering a safe and successful event for our audiences.

“Undermining the long-term future of charitable organisations such as book festivals is not the right way to bring about change.

“It diminishes the voices of those who feel strongly about these complex issues and it will be infinitely harder to build and sustain well-funded cultural institutions in the future than it is to put them out of business today.

“We speak to all our supporters about these complex issues and continue to believe that Baillie Gifford is part of the solution in transitioning towards a more sustainable world and that the firm operates in line with our ethical fundraising policy.”

Allan Little, chair of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, said: “Our team cannot be expected to deliver a safe and sustainable festival this August under the constant threat of disruption from activists. This was a pragmatic response to that reality.

“Funding for the arts is now in a perilous position and we should all be clear that without the support of our partners and donors, the future of festivals like ours – and all of the benefits these events bring to authors and readers alike – is in jeopardy.

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg accused Baillie Gifford of ‘greenwashing’ (Lucy North/PA)

“Book festivals around the world are forums in which rigorous, intelligent debate can take place. Our festival should be a place where progressive and nuanced discussion can happen in a safe and respectful space.”

Nick Thomas, a partner with Baillie Gifford, said: “Our collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, spanning decades, was rooted in our shared interest in making Edinburgh a thriving and culturally vibrant place to live and work.

“In recent years we have been proud to support the Schools’ and Children’s programmes, providing free books and creating opportunities for young readers to meet authors.

“The activists’ anonymous campaign of coercion and misinformation has put intolerable pressure on authors and the festival community.

“We step back with the hope that the festival will thrive this year and into the future. We hold the activists squarely responsible for the inhibiting effect their action will have on funding for the arts in this country.

“Baillie Gifford is a long-term investor with high ethical standards and a complete focus on doing what is right by our clients.

“The assertion that we have significant amounts of money in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is offensively misleading. Baillie Gifford is a large investor in several multinational technology companies, including Amazon, NVIDIA, and Meta.

“Demanding divestment from these global companies, used by millions of people around the world, is unreasonable and serves no purpose. Much as it would be unreasonable to demand authors boycott Instagram or stop selling books on Amazon.

“Nor is Baillie Gifford a significant fossil fuel investor. Only 2% of our clients’ money is invested in companies with some business related to fossil fuels.”

This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival will take place from August 10 to 25, with the full programme due to be launched next week.