Boycotting the Baby Show

Blogger and birth worker Rebecca Schiller explains why parenting organisations, including Mumsnet, boycott the Baby Show and its organiser Clarion Events. The doula from Hackney calls on Clarion to sever its ties with the arms trade and regulate its speakers.

hackney doulaTake me by the hand and lead me to a place where new families are surrounded by those with their best interests at heart, who respect human life, want to inform, support and make their lives easier and only sell them stuff they need.

In my work as a doula I find pockets of utopia do exist, but more often the reality of what surrounds first time mothers frightens me. The Baby Show, which took place in London in February, has become my shorthand for what’s wrong with the cultural context surrounding new parents.

Shopping at The Baby Show isn't the only way to prepare for parenting. I favour the approach of Eva Fernandes of Born Direct, who says, “it is easy to get taken in by marketing from big brands and think you have to buy lots, but babies need very little. If in doubt as to if you will need it, wait.”

But hey, if you want to buy ten buggies, who am I to tell you there’s another way? So I’ll forgive The Baby Show for wanting to make lots of money out of new parents, but I refuse to forgive its links to the UK arms trade.

That’s right, I said arms trade. ARMS TRADE. Clarion Events, the company behind the Baby Show, owns a catalogue of arms fairs including the notorious Defence & Security Equipment International (DSEi) fair. As Ian Pocock of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) says, "The fact that Clarion Events run the Baby Show while also organising the DSEi arms fair is unconscionable. Bahrain's presence at the last DSEi is particularly horrifying in light of the violence taking place right now, violence that is being carried out with British-made weapons."

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Babies and bullets is a combination that should send the reasonably-minded running for the hills. Those in the know are fleeing The Baby Show and rejecting donations from Clarion, while the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) branded the link 'abhorrent' and called on Clarion to sever that tie immediately.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet, confirmed that the Baby Show is on the parenting website’s list of banned advertisers for several years. She says that after consulting members, “we decided that partnering with a company that runs arms shows was not in keeping with our aim of making parents' lives easier.”

These are positive steps in making sure visitors know what their £20 ticket-price is contributing to. But there are three more baby shows planned this year, in Birmingham, Manchester and London, and Clarion have issued a blanket ‘no comment’ in response to the RCM’s condemnation.

I see this as a potentially toxic chain of events. Fast-forward a couple of years and when those with a social-conscience step away from The Baby Show; who will vulnerable pregnant women be exposed to at the shopping event? If the message doesn’t get out to visitors, then the Show’s annual nationwide progress will continue but staffed only with retailers, speakers and organisations that don’t care that Clarion’s other fairs are, according to CAAT, attended by "an all-star cast of tyrants, despots, and human rights abusers."

This possibility is made even more worrying, when concerns have already been raised about the Show’s current choice of expert speakers including Clare Byam-Cook. The RCM’s Sue Jacobs attacked the breastfeeding speaker’s “total ignorance of breastfeeding principles.”

In my mind it’s simple. Running a show that’s supposed to be ‘baby shopping heaven’ is incompatible with running arms fairs that are responsible for the deaths of mothers and babies in far-flung places. The living hell faced by those affected by the arms trade is damaging to the brands that exhibit, damaging to reputations of those who speak at the show and most worryingly damaging to the mothers and babies the Show claims to care about. Clarion Events must sever its ties with the arms trade or accept it cannot run The Baby Show and attract the kind of exhibitors and speakers such a precious audience deserve. The Hackney Doula

Rebecca's blog the Hackney Doula is part of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. She's written about the Baby Show in the Huffington Post.


Last updated: 09-Apr-2013 at 4:32 PM