Who are Fossil Free Books, the campaign group that targeted Baillie Gifford?

Collective’s campaign comes under spotlight amid festival funding fears

It is a divisive group that was little known this time last year, but has come to exert significant influence over how major literary festivals in Scotland and further afield are funded.

Fossil Free Books (FFB) came to prominence last summer when it rallied together scores of authors to call on Baillie Gifford, a major sponsor of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) and numerous other events during Edinburgh’s festivals season, to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and from companies that “profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide”.

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Since then, the group’s campaign has intensified. In an open letter signed last month by hundreds of authors, illustrators, and others in the publishing industry, the group stressed that a literary industry “free from fossil fuels, genocide and colonial violence” was not only possible, but “necessary”. It concluded: “We make these demands in the spirit of a just transition, a process of creating work for all, including work in literature, which does not depend on the profits of colonialism and environmental destruction.”

The result is the end of Baillie Gifford’s long-standing sponsorship deals, with literary festivals up and down the country, including the EIBF, Wigtown Book Festival and Borders Book Festival, a development that has sparked an angry backlash and fears for the future of the cultural events at a time when public arts funding is scarce, and financial pressures stemming from the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis remain to the fore.

FFB is understood to be non-hierarchical. The organisation says that it is unfunded, and that all the organising work as part of its campaign is shared. It has also rejected criticisms the group constitutes an “anonymous campaign” and describes itself as a “collective of workers”, ranging from writers through to translators, and booksellers.

According to The Guardian, its organisers include novelists Guy Gunaratne and Jessica Gaitán Johannesson, children’s author and illustrator Emma Reynolds, and novelist and filmmaker Omar Robert Hamilton. Other writers who have campaigned as part of FFB’s work include Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Andrés Ordorica and Mikaeli Loach, who walked out of her event at Edinburgh last year over Baillie Gifford’s involvement.

The group has said its engagement with authors has always been “friendly and inclusive”, and it has expressed sympathy with the “struggles” faced by literary festival organisers in accessing funding. However, it has rejected claims that it should shoulder the blame for the EIBF’s funding situation, stating: “Our demand has always been that Baillie Gifford divest their stakes in companies profiting from human rights abuses so that they can continue to support literary festivals across the country.”

The Edinburgh International Book Festival has ended its deal with Baillie Gifford in the wake of protests by Fossil Free Books. Picture: Lisa FergusonThe Edinburgh International Book Festival has ended its deal with Baillie Gifford in the wake of protests by Fossil Free Books. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The Edinburgh International Book Festival has ended its deal with Baillie Gifford in the wake of protests by Fossil Free Books. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

However, the group’s actions have been questioned by some high-profile environmental campaigners, including Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens. Speaking at the weekend, he said he had “mixed feelings” about FFB’s campaign.

“If the target of that campaign was to get Baillie Gifford to divest from fossil fuels and from companies tarred by association with Israel, then it hasn’t worked,” he explained. “The objective shouldn’t have been to defund literary festivals.”

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