The head of the multinational arms company BAE Systems, has provoked criticism with a dismissive comment about the Haddon-Cave Report into the deaths of 14 members of the UK armed forces in a Nimrod aircraft.
The report attributed a heavy portion of the blame for the deaths to BAE, but when questioned about it in London yesterday evening (12 November), BAE's chair Dick Olver rejected the report's findings because Haddon-Cave had interviewed "only" 19 BAE officials. Olver said that he would not “be blown off course by comments about 19 people”.
The remarks followed Olver's delivery of the Mountbatten Memorial Lecture, a public event, at the Institute for Engineering and Technology. He focused on the theme of “ethical leadership”.
During his lecture, Olver insisted that BAE was thoroughly implementing a set of ethical guidelines which it had accepted in 2008. When questioned from the floor by Symon Hill, associate director of the thinktank Ekklesia, Olver described the Nimrod incident as a “tragedy” and said that his company would look very carefully at Haddon-Cave's comments.
When it was pointed out that Haddon-Cave had declared that BAE was not following its own ethical guidelines, Olver became flustered, saying “I reject that absolutely”, and adding “I will not be blown off course by comments about 19 people or anything else”.
The Haddon-Cave Report declared that “BAE Systems has failed to implement its expressed ethical business culture company-wide. The responsibility for this must lie with the leadership”.
Haddon-Cave insisted that “Throughout my review BAE Systems has been a company in denial”.
The report found that BAE shared responsibility for Nimrod's failings with Qinetiq, another arms company, as well as with the Ministry of Defence.
Olver faced several challenging questions after his lecture, some of which focused on the ethics of selling arms to dictators.
He said that all BAE employees are bound by a “clear and consistent code of conduct” wherever they operate. He insisted that his company was not corrupt and argued that the arms trade was not unethical.
Although the IET said that it was “delighted” to welcome Olver, there has been widespread derision at the concept of a leading arms dealer lecturing on ethics. Kaye Stearman of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has compared it to “Nick Griffin lecturing on multi-racial harmony or Bernard Madoff on financial probity”.
BAE has long been criticised by churches, faith groups, charities and NGOs for arming oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The company is facing allegations of corruption in five continents and is thought to be on the brink of prosecution in British courts.