BAE Systems has failed to halt the sharp decline in its reputation despite trying to focus on ethics at its Annual General Meeting in London today. The Board faced a barrage of questions from shareholders about corruption and political influence.
The company struggled to emphasise their new 'ethics report' by Lord Woolf, but this is being dismissed as papering over all too evident cracks by analysts, journalists and campaigners.
The report, commissioned and lavishly paid for by BAE, has been criticised for making very limited ethical recommendations without looking at past deals or wider questions such as the ethics of arming oppressive regimes.
The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) held a peaceful protest outside the AGM while CAAT campaigners staged a photo opportunity showing BAE trying to sweep the reality of their business under the carpet, following the Woolf report.
CAAT spokesperson Symon Hill said: "BAE's bosses are clutching at straws in a futile attempt to improve their reputation. Dick Olver is utterly out of touch with public opinion if he expects talk of ethics to be taken seriously from a company that arms dictators around the globe and lobbied the government to drop a criminal investigation into its deals."
He added: "Olver and his colleagues were at the head of BAE when - as the High Court found - it put pressure on the government to drop the Saudi corruption investigation in 2006. In contrast to BAE's talk, their behaviour suggests that they think that 'ethics' is a county near London."
This was BAE's first AGM since the High Court ruled that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), acting on government advice, had behaved unlawfully in closing down an investigation into BAE's Saudi arms deals.
BAE's chairman Dick Olver suggested this morning that the SFO may have held insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution. CAAT has pointed out that this appears to contradict the High Court judgment of Lord Justice Moses, who stated that the investigation had been dropped due to a threat from the Saudi regime which took place when the SFO gained access to Swiss bank accounts.
The SFO's Director at the time, Robert Wardle, has also accepted that insufficient evidence was not a problem.