BAE arms dealers evict thirteen critics from AGM

By staff writers
May 8, 2013

Supporters of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) turned out in force to shame arms giant BAE Systems at their Annual General Meeting (AGM) today (8 May).

They accused the company of supporting repressive regimes through arms sales and unethical business practices. Acute questioning combined with high farce during the two-hour meeting, which culminated in the attempted presentation of 'Whitewasher of the Year' award to BAE's chair, Dick Olver.

This happened despite the AGM's relocation from central London to Farnborough in Hampshire, a venue easily accessible to BAE employees in the area but not so convenient for shareholders and the media.

The venue in question is owned by ADS, the trade body of the arms industry, suggesting a retreat from more public spaces where arms dealers have faced consistent protests.

Many of those who travelled to the AGM to challenge the company were 'activist shareholders', who own single shares in BAE as this gives them a legal right to attend the AGM. The protesters included people of several religions and none. Among them were a trainee Church of England priest and at least six Quakers.

They ridiculed Dick Olver's claims that BAE is "one of the leading and most ethical companies." A large contingent of security staff evicted thirteen people who expressed scorn and anger at the way the chair and chief executive Ian King repeatedly evaded questions put to them about BAE's policies and practices.

Questions focused on BAE's weapons sales to and relationship with authoritarian governments, including Bahrain, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

There was a particular focus on Saudi Arabia, the largest customer for UK weaponry, where BAE has sold fighter jets, including the Eurofighter Typhoon, Tactica armoured personnel vehicles and MBDA Brimstone, Storm Shadow and Mistral missiles.

Dick Olver was visibly riled when asked whether BAE had contingency plans for protests in Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes where it does significant business.

CAAT spokesperson Anne-Marie O'Reilly said there had been “a great turnout” from CAAT supporters.

“BAE is so keen to whitewash its image that it moved its Annual General Meeting from a prestigious venue in Westminster back to home turf in Farnborough,” said O'Reilly. “But we were there to challenge its weapons sales, which boost human rights-abusing regimes like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.”

She added, “The cost of BAE's business is counted in lives lost and that's why over forty campaigners made sure its AGM could not be a matter of business as usual.”

One of those evicted from the AGM was Christian writer and activist Symon Hill, an associate of the Ekklesia thinktank. He said, “For most of the year, BAE's board are able to avoid scrutiny. That's why it's so important that on this one day every year we take the opportunity to confront power with truth.”

[Ekk/1]

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