Yesterday, peace activists swamped the AGM of the UK’s biggest arms manufacturers. It was glorious.
This is the one day a year when members of the public can put their concerns to BAE Systems and attempt to work out just how they can do what they do. Many peace activists purchase one single share (and shred any cheque for dividends) in order to be able to attend this airport-security-level event. This year and last were the first in a while to be held outside Central London – in Farnborough, Hampshire. BAE claim that this is to save on costs (it’s held at their HQ in an old hangar and isn’t exactly snazzy) but we reckon they want to keep the press away. Reduced numbers of shareholders able to get there meant that a large proportion of attendees were employees of BAE, wanting to make up numbers and put bums on seats. The board (12 people consisting of a pitiful two women) sat at the front on raised stands – clearly making weapons gets you the best seat in the house.
95% of the questions to the board came from people wondering if BAE used their noggin at all when instructed for whom to make weapons…answer: no. They follow the law, therefore they’re ethical. They were also asked what impact the upcoming reforms to the arms trade treaty would have on their business. They predicted no effect. The person posing the question, Quaker Symon Hill, suggested that, if the treaty won’t make the world’s third largest arms manufacturer step into line, it isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Note-worthy disturbances came in the form of clucking noises when *Sir* Roger Carr avoided a question; eruptions of sudden and unexplained coughing fits coincided with any mention of their glowing ethical credentials. There was some heroic singing efforts, including some dressed up as cheerleaders and others serenading the new chairman, wondering why he’d turned bad. Roger showed signs of tiring and suggested that the “pantomime act” was very silly, to which we responded, “ohhhhh no it isn’t!”. Next year we’ll bring the theatrical horse…
The line of questioning was deadly serious, in line with their deadly business. BAE says they sell weapons only to allies and do so “in good faith”. When it’s obvious that the weaponry is being used to repress people and BAE is asked to service the equipment, do they comply and send it back in, shiny and ready for more human rights abuse? Yes. Yes they do. Almost amusingly, when asked by FoR staff whether they’d ever turn down a weapons contract from the British government in the interest of public security (with regards to redistributing the “defence” budget), we were told that the NHS has been ring-fenced and is safe. Well, you heard it here first.
BAE disclosed that they spend around £1m a year on branding events like the Big Bang Fair. This was in response to a question about whether it was responsible to be conspicuous at children’s events in the same way that tobacco firms aren’t allowed in, but Roger assured them that it’s not the same – BAE isn’t trying to sell kids weapons…just trying to get them to make them in the future. Much better.
There were many requests from shareholders to focus more on the non-arms-related work that BAE carries out, which currently makes up just 8% of their activity. Roger said that this was his aim – so there is some hope. However for as long as BAE continues to make weapons, they can expect to come up against resistance from those who oppose war and its preparation.
There was a write-up in the Christian think tank Ekklesia about the day’s events and highlighting some of the finer points of irony.
It was also covered by the Morning Star.
Check out #BAE2014 for what people have tweeted about the event.