Edinburgh Festival follows Hay and drops its sponsorship partner with Baillie Gifford because of its ties with Israel

Posted: 26 May, 2024 | Category: Uncategorized

Swedish climate and pro-Palestine activist Greta Thunberg helped lead a campaign against Baillie Gifford which sponsored the Hay Literary Festival to the tune of about £130,000 a year. She also helped distance that Edinburgh-based company from one of the world’s foremost literary festivals, the Edinburgh International Book Festival.


By Trevor Grundy

May 30, 2024


The Edinburgh International Book Festival has become the second major literary event to end its 20-year funding partnership with sponsors Baillie Gifford after pressure from climate change protesters.

The move follows a similar decision by the Hay festival in Wales last week.

A BBC report tonight by Craig Williams said that investment company has been a major sponsor of UK arts events but has come under scrutiny for its investments in fossil fuels.

Book festival chairman Allan Little said they could nor deliver a safe and sustainable festival in August with the constant threat of disruption from activists.

In a statement released on Thursday, Baillie Gifford’s Nick Thomas said: “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.”

Allan Little, chairman 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.”

Mr Little said the festival was a charity and an “important platform” which allows people of all views to debate.

“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,” he said.

“Indeed, our programme this year is designed to give a voice to those directly affected by conflict and those engaged at the most senior levels in its resolution. We will explore the real challenges involved in transition, green tech and climate finance, misinformation and the need for new economic models.

“We are determined to have those debates and to have them out in the open, but we need everyone to come to the table.

“We have made several invitations to Fossil Free Books, and other groups, to attend this year’s festival and regret that they have not responded to those offers,” he added.

The festival’s chief executive, Jenny Niven, said the mutual decision to end the partnership was a source of great regret.

“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,” she said.

“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,” she added

Nick Thomas, a partner at 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.”

He said the firm had supported the schools and children’s programmes, providing free books – and he defended Baillie Gifford’s ethical record.

“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,” he said.

“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. We invest far more in companies helping drive the transition to clean energy.”

He added: “We remain committed to contributing positively to our community through philanthropic support.”

Fossil Free Books said they welcomed the news that the book festival had “dropped” Baillie Gifford as a sponsor.

A statement said: “Our primary demand has always been for Baillie Gifford to divest, and for festivals to use their relationships with Baillie Gifford to call on the firm to divest.

“As bombs continue to fall on Palestinians in Gaza, we hope this sends a clear message: we are united in our solidarity for Palestinians.

“We condemn Israel’s genocide in Gaza, and the recent horrifying massacre of Palestinians sheltering in Rafah by Israeli precision bombs. We call on all financial institutions with holdings in Israeli occupation, apartheid and genocide to divest.

“We love our literary festivals dearly, and it is a privilege to share work with readers, but this cannot come at the expense of the human rights of Palestinians and communities harmed by fossil fuel companies.”

The group added that it has not coerced authors into supporting its aims and said it would be meeting Jenny Niven from the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Friday.

Sponsors like Baillie Gifford are rare in the arts world. They are known for giving a lot and place few – if any – restrictions on funding.

But now, one by one the UK’s leading literary festivals are turning down Baillie Gifford’s money, under pressure from activists and authors who say the investment firm has links to Israel and fossil fuels which make it unacceptable.

Baillie Gifford disputes the figures used in the Fossil Free Books campaign.

The company says only two per cent of their clients’ investments relate to fossil fuels and any suggestion they have significant sums in Occupied Palestinian Territories is “offensively misleading”.

But having persuaded the Hay festival to drop its sponsorship, Fossil Free Books have now done the same in Edinburgh.

The people who run the Edinburgh book festival say this is the only practical way to ensure the event happens at all, after threats of disruption and boycott.

A charitable organisation has been forced to turn down resources in the most precarious of times. The worry must be that other sponsors may also shy away, leaving the festival in jeopardy.

And for what? Baillie Gifford will continue to invest, and their philanthropy will go elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the complex issues and discussions for which this festival is famed may not have a platform at all.


The Hay Literary Festival – one of the best- known cultural events of the British year – had earlier dropped its principal sponsor Baillie Gifford following boycotts by performers over the firm’s links to Israel.

A report in the Jewish Chronicle said that the festival’s organisers had caved-in to pressure from campaigners who claimed that its main sponsor, the investment management firm Baillie Gifford, had financial links with Israel.

Hay is a small town on the Welsh side of the border with Hertfordshire. It has twenty bookshops and is known as the Book Town of Wales.

On Friday, the festival organisers said that they were ending their links with that Baillie Gifford because of intense pressure from artists to withdraw.

An editorial in The Bookseller magazine commented – ”Hay’s move will increase pressure on other organisations in receipt of sponsorship from Baillie Gifford. According to the Financial Times . . .  the annual sponsorship of Hay is worth around £130, 000. Aside from Hay, Baillie Gifford supports the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the Cheltenham Literary Festival, the Boswell Book Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival and the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction.”

Artists who pulled out this year were led by the Welsh singer Charlotte Church, the stand-up comedian Nish Kumar, Labour Party peer Shami Chakrabarti and Dawn Buter MP.

Charlotte Church was a singing sensation when she was 14 in 1999.

She earned about £25 million during her career as the best-known singer in Wales after Tom Jones.

Now she is better known as a political activist, a leading campaigner for Palestine.

Recently, Charlotte Church led  a choir singing “From the river to the sea“ which many Jews say is little short of a call for the eradication of the State of Israel

Explaining why the sponsorship has ended so suddenly, the CEO of Hay Festival Global, Julie Finch, told reporters – ”In light of claims raised by campaigners and intense pressure on artists to withdraw, we have taken the decision to suspend our sponsorship from Baillie Gifford. Our first priority is to our audience and to our artists. Above all else we must preserve the freedom of our stages and spaces for open debate and discussion, where audiences can hear a range of perspectives.

The campaign to end the sponsorship of Baillie Gifford, an investment firm founded in 1908 in Edinburgh, Scotland, was led by an organisation of artists and writers called Fossil Free Books ( FFB).

In a statement FFB said that until the Edinburgh-based management firm agrees to divest “we call on all literary organisations, including festivals, to end their relationship with Baillie Gifford.”

FFB said that if the demand was not met “we reaffirm our commitment to take action through disruption and by withdrawing our labour.”

A spokesperson for Baillie Gifford said it was regrettable that the firm’s sponsorship with the Hay Festival would not continue and that the suggestion it was a large investor in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was “seriously misleading.”

Baillie Gifford began its relationship with the Hay Festival in 2016.

Last year, more than 150 authors and book workers – including Sweden’s Greta Thunberg – signed statements calling on Edinburgh International Book Festival to cut ties with Baillie Gifford.

Tonight, that happened.