Activists invade Arms Giant’s AGM

Article @ Morning Star, published 8 May 2014

Arms dealer BAE Systems’s annual conference was invaded by dozens of peace activists yesterday.

Campaign Against Arms Trade (Caat) members travelled to Farnborough in Hampshire to disrupt the corporation’s AGM in protest against its dire record of flogging weapons to tyrants.

The meetings were previously held in central London, but had been moved to an old hangar at a former military airport in a failed bid to escape protesters.

One shareholder complained: “I thought it would keep these rowdy people at bay.”

Speeches from the stage were drowned out by an orchestra of noises activists made according to instructions on bingo cards — the mention of the firm’s motto, “inspired work,” inspired a choir of vomiting sounds.

Chief executive Ian King’s attempt to deliver an account of the company’s financial year was interrupted by a shout of “blood money!” from a woman protester.

Activists — and the Star’s reporter — took up a quarter of the conference room, having gained entry by buying proxy shares.

Some shareholders smirked as three Caat members dressed as cheerleaders began a chant to welcome new board chairman Sir Roger Carr, only to be forcibly removed from the room.

Protesters kept up an unrelenting stream of tough questions and Mr Carr grew increasingly tense as he was asked about his moral compass.

The grisly record of one of BAE’s largest clients, the misogynist autocracy of Saudi Arabia, came under particular scrutiny — with one young man shouting: “What about Bahrain?” in reference to the
Saudi invasion that crushed its pro-democracy movement.

Peace campaigner Symon Hill asked about BAE’s ethical record, but Mr Carr answered lamely: “I’m not here to judge.

“Governments are here to judge who our allies are and what is in the interest of world peace.”
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament community campaigner and Caat supporter Anne Shultess said the day was “brilliant.

“Disrupting the meeting and making them feel uncomfortable is such an important part of what we do — that’s what raises awareness.”

The day would be a success if it led BAE employees and investors reconsider their position, she added.

But Mr Carr attempted to shrug off the protests, winding up by saying the day had been “memorable” for the “cheerleaders and singers.”