Sunday, 22 June 2008

Britain is world's no. 1 arms dealer

Britain won a dubious new accolade this week: it became the world's number one arms exporter. Not that the government had any regrets: the trade minister Digby Jones greeted it as "outstanding" and promised: "I look forward to working with the defence sector in future."

Others may find it harder to celebrate. In a country that has lost well over a million manufacturing jobs since 1997, where there were not enough trained engineers to fix the west coast mainline last Christmas, there is something galling about our remaining manufacturing excellence being concentrated in weapons, warplanes and military equipment. When UK Trade and Investment, the government agency that published these figures, was asked yesterday in which other export industries Britain ranked number one, it could not name one.

Then there are our dodgy customers. Every year the Foreign Office puts out a human rights report. Last year's edition names as one of the government's "major countries of concern" Saudi Arabia. Yet this despotic regime was the biggest customer for British arms last year, placing an order worth roughly £4.4bn for Typhoon aircraft alone. These deals may not break the letter of Labour's manifesto pledge in 1997 that "we will not permit the sale of arms to regimes that might use them for internal repression", but they certainly flout its spirit. And can Labour ministers, with their long-standing commitment to development, really be glad that impoverished countries such as Tanzania are shelling out tens of millions for radar defence systems?

Those who style themselves as hard-headed argue that if Britain did not sell these armaments, someone else would; at least this way the trade is cleaner than it might be otherwise. The first contention could obviously be used by a drug dealer, and it would not detain any court for a moment. And the second part can hardly stand while the allegations that BAE Systems, the giant among British defence companies, bribed brutal regimes to purchase its stuff go uninvestigated by British authorities.

Nor is this trade helpful for the British. BAE, for instance, has more workers in America than the UK. Yet the industry gets plenty of taxpayers' money: not just its own dedicated staff at UK Trade and Investment, but subsidies for research. Campaigners calculate that the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, a taxpayer-funded body, spent £35m in 2004 in research grants for "defence and aerospace" projects with BAE and others. This money and support could be directed elsewhere, to more pressing needs. Rather than boast of their connections with defence, ministers should look to minimise them.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Saturday, 10 November 2007

High court to review halted BAE-Saudi investigation

Published in GuardianUnlimited on 9/11/07,,2208451,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=11

Anti-corruption campaigners today won permission to bring a high court challenge over the decision to end investigations into alleged corruption by BAE Systems in arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

Lawyers for the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) and the Corner House argued that the UK government's decision to cut short an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) was unlawful under the OECD's anti-bribery convention, which the UK signed in 1997.

Lord Justice Moses, sitting with Mr Justice Irwin, said "matters of concern and public importance" had been raised and the challenge "cries out for a hearing".

The £20bn-plus al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia, which formed the focus of the legal challenge, was negotiated by the Thatcher government and involved the sale of Tornado jets made by BAE. Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia allegedly received a secret £1bn payment to facilitate the 1985 contract.

The government has denied any breach of the convention and declared that it took the decision to terminate the investigation on the grounds of "national security".

Tony Blair, the prime minister at the time the inquiry was halted, said that continuing the investigation would have jeopardised Saudi cooperation on counter-terrorism.

The campaigners' lawyers argued that the SFO decision failed to take into account the national security implications of not proceeding with the investigation.

They said that the government's willingness to turn a blind eye to corruption within Saudi Arabia had the potential to encourage more international resentment towards the UK.

Notwithstanding those arguments, the campaigners contend that Article 5 of the OECD's anti-bribery convention precludes the UK from taking into account the potential effect of an investigation or prosecution on another state - even where there was concern over its impact on national security.

The CAAT spokesman Symon Hill told Guardian Unlimited today's decision was brilliant "for everyone who cares about justice in Britain".

"It's great news for everyone thinking that BAE and the government should not be above the law that the rest of us have to follow," he said.

In September, the two countries announced a £4.4bn deal for the sale of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, also made by BAE, to the desert kingdom.

The same month, the UK government was accused of obstructing an American criminal investigation into the al-Yamamah contract by the US inquiry team.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Liverpool Council Disinvests from BAE

Liverpool takes the lead in curbing arms trade investment
Oct 30 2007 by David Bartlett, Liverpool Daily Post

AUTHORITIES across Merseyside are being encouraged to follow Liverpool’s lead in calling for the area’s largest pension fund to stop investing in arms companies.

Liverpool Council leader Warren Bradley is to write to the leaders of Wirral, Sefton, St Helens, and Knowsley for support in stopping the Merseyside Superannuation Fund from investing in the arms trade.

It comes after Liverpool Council passed a resolution which stated that “investment in the arms trade is not compatible with good corporate, social and ethical governance”

It comes after the Daily Post revealed in the summer that the fund currently has £13.6m linked to investments with firms that are involved in aspects of armaments trade, including BAE, Boeing and Rolls-Royce.

The pension fund, administered by Wirral Council on behalf of all local authorities, manages an investment pot worth around £4bn.

Merseyside Stop the War Coalition, Mark Holt, who campaigned for the Council to adopt this policy, said: “People in Liverpool were appalled to discover that the Merseyside Pension Fund invests in arms companies such as BAE, Rolls-Royce and Boeing.

“Now Liverpool has given a lead to every other council in the country. Now we can hold our head up as next year’s Capital of Culture. We’ve shown that we’re also the Capital of Conscience.”

Campaign Against Arms Trade spokesman, Symon Hill, said: “We’re delighted that they have taken such a major step.

“It’s vital that other councils in Merseyside back this proposal and pull Merseyside Pension Fund out of arms companies.

A spokesman for Merseyside Pension Fund, said: “As a signatory to the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, the Fund seeks to incorporate environmental, social and governance criteria in its investment processes and actively engages with investee companies.

“Consequently, it does not have a formal policy of excluding companies on ethical grounds.

“In the light of the motion, we will be discussing the issues with the Pensions Committee, whose ultimate decision it will be whether the Pension Fund adopts an ethical direction.”


THE AGM vote was won

Students call for shares sale

EDINBURGH University is under increased pressure to sell £500,000 shares in Total after a student vote.

More than 400 students packed the George Square lecture theatre for the student association's annual general meeting.

They voted in favour of putting pressure on the university to stop investing in Total, which runs gas fields in Burma, where there have been government crackdowns on pro-democracy protests.

The university has already sold shares in Nestle, BAE and British and American Tobacco, following similar student-led campaigns.

Gordon Aikman, EUSA vice president, said: "Hopefully we will see some real change, not only here in Edinburgh but beyond."

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

BBC Website reports Edinburgh TOTAL campaign

Students criticise Burma oil link

Burma has recently witnessed civil unrest
Students have called on Edinburgh University to withdraw a £650,000 investment in Total over concerns about the oil giant's involvement in Burma.
The university owns 16,640 shares in Total, which account for less than half of one percent of its investment fund.

A successful vote at the student AGM will see pressure put on the university to end its involvement with the firm.

The university has insisted that all its investments were socially responsible.

French energy giant Total is one of the biggest investors in Burma.

A spokesman for the Student Green Party said they did not believe owning shares in Total was in line with the university's ethical investment policy.

The University of Edinburgh's investment committee and the university's fund managers strictly adhere to a socially responsible investment policy

Edinburgh University spokesman

Past student AGM meetings have persuaded the university to embrace Fairtrade, to remove Robert Mugabe's honorary degree and to disinvest from the arms company BAE Systems.

A university spokesman said: "The University of Edinburgh's investment committee and the university's fund managers strictly adhere to a socially responsible investment policy.

"The university has in place procedures to consider any matters that are raised and the university court's approach is one of engagement with companies on ethical issues through our fund managers' corporate governance unit."

Total is the world's fourth largest oil and gas firm.

In 2005, it agreed to pay compensation to Burmese villagers who claimed they were used as forced labour during the building of a major gas pipeline.

It denied it was aware that forced labour was directly or indirectly used in the project.

Monday, 29 October 2007

University's ethics on trial

Press Release


University's Ethics on Trial
For Immediate Release

Edinburgh University's ethical and environmental record is to 'go on trial' at this years Student AGM. As the deadline passed at 5 o clock today, a record number of motions had been submitted, calling for greener accommodation, cleaner investment and more ethical checks on research.

The calls come following a number of scandals including the revelations that the university holds more than £500,000 of shares in TOTAL oil (the biggest funder of the Burmese regime), and an investigation by Stop the War Society that reveals that the university designs equipment for the Pentagon.

Second year Biology student Sarah Holliday said 'The University prides itself on its socially responsible reputation. We want to help them live up to that'.

Past AGMs have succeeded in getting the university to strip Robert Mugabe of his honourary degree, twin with Birzeit University in Palestine and become a Fairtrade University.

The vote will take place on the 7th November at 7pm in George Square Theatre. All students are welcome.