The news that the head of a multinational arms company is to deliver a prominent lecture on ethics has been greeted with a mixture of derision and outrage. Dick Olver, chair of BAE Systems, will focus on ethical issues when he delivers the Mountbatten Memorial Lecture on 12 November.
BAE has long been criticised by NGOs, charities, churches and faith groups for its arms sales to oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The company has been accused of corruption in five continents and is thought to be on the brink of prosecution in the UK.
However, Olver plans to “challenge key stakeholders to help embed ethics into engineering innovation” when he speaks at the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) in a public lecture in central London.
“Dick Olver of BAE lecturing on ethics is a sick joke,” said Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
She suggested that “It should go in the same category as Nick Griffin lecturing on multi-racial harmony or Bernard Madoff on financial probity”.
However, a spokesperson for the Institute of Engineering and Technology said that the IET is “delighted” that Olver will be delivering the lecture, adding that “Mr Olver’s career to date has included positions at leading organisations and his experiences are likely to be very thought-provoking”.
He emphasised that the IET “always encouraged open, honest debate for the purposes of advancing knowledge and understanding” and wanted the lecture to lead to "an extremely stimulating debate".
This is unlikely to satisfy those engineers who consider the invitation to be absurd. One London-based engineer, Dr Rachel Cavill, told Ekklesia that she was appalled that Olver had been invited to speak about ethics.
“There are plenty of engineers working on problems in ways that are truly ethical,” she said, “Unless Dick Olver's going to talk about how not to be ethical, I think it's a travesty that he's been invited instead of them”.