What do you do when a company does things that you think are immoral, the legalities questionable and they trade in war. You buy a share of it.
My motto is “Every form of protest is valid in the right context” and “by any means possible” this now seems to include buying shares in companies I hate the most.
What seemed way to early Wednesday morning members of CAAT and volunteers all gathered in Waterloo in the lovely 1901 Arts Club. There was the usual introductions and nods over the buzz that hovered in the room. Pieces of paper being shared, Pom poms being stuffed into socks, various attempts at smuggling our carnival wares into the meeting were being attempted in all 4 corners of the room. I must say putting party poppers down my bra made me laugh as these may well be construed as explosives. People volunteered to ask the questions, some to be the cheerleaders and of course the welcome to the newly appointed Mr Carr which I was more than happy to take on. People rehearsed songs and we were all taken through the bingo, practising what noises where to go along side which words. It may all seem very juvenile but the reality is this is about disrupting the AGM not contributing to it. Everyone I know involved in the Campaign Against the Arms Trade is a pacifist. The tactics are relentless objections to the business of the war machine, the companies in bed with these dealers such as The London transport museum who at present sponsored by Thales (50% of Thales business is arms manufacturing. Thales makes missiles, drones and aircraft carriers) and the dinners laid on at our expense to court deals with dictators and human rights criminals. We will be present in every way shape and form that we can.
So satisfied that we knew what each one of us was doing we all buddied up and made our way to the train station. This year B.A.E systems had taken their AGM out of London and based it at Farnborough. Perhaps they were naive in the belief that protesters wouldn’t bother travelling that far. They obviously underestimate our resolve.
We arrived at the station and a luxury coach was waiting to ferry the shareholders to the meeting. To say we stood out a little is a bit of an understatement. In the knowledge that you had your voting slip in your pocket and there was no way B.A.E could refuse you into their meeting made you feel like a child and a gleeful triumph before you were even in there. We went into the large aircraft hanger which was adorned with huge promotional material using the words such as Innovative Bold and Trusted . So we were meeted and greeted and some of us went and registered our questions and were seated in specific areas and the others scattered themselves around the seating areas. There were a lot of us, there were also a lot of suits.
We all took our seats and the Introductions of the panel began. The accolades bouncing off the credentials were blinding. Mr Carr the newly appointed chairman-designate of BAE recently leaving Centrica ( Check out Fracking) too take up the position and is a member of the U.K. prime minister’s Business Advisory Group introduced himself and explained his role within BAE and his position and relationships with other companies. During these what can only be describes as egotistical fawning accolades the CAAT bingo was in full swing and the very purpose of our visit the disruption of the AGM had begun. With the house keeping and the programme of the day explained we moved to the questions that had been lodged by shareholders. Some where postal but most were there in person.
So it began we stood up one by one with a continuous flow of uncomfortable questions such as “would BAE staff stop supporting equipment such as armoured vehicles or fighter aircraft if they knew they were being used against democracy protesters or an international aggression?” One by one Mr Carr responded to the questions but as we know a response is not necessarily an answer and so it continued. He was so so smooth he had obviously been briefed on the fact that protesters would be there and he was prepared. Lots of rhetoric on regulations and rules. On how they ensure that all their sub contractors provide good conditions for their workforce, how many apprenticeships they are investing and how out of 5,000 employees they had some women.
During the Q&A a group of 3 cheerleaders jumped up and broke out what can only be described as a Morcambe and Wise moment genius and hilarious in their Union Jack outfits and poms poms. These were removed and the day progressed, more heckling and more questions and the security got more and more visible as they decided to come and sit along side people they had obviously highlighted as protesters. Then my time came and I went to the podium. Give me a microphone and the board of directors of BAE and this is what you get my welcome to MR Carr…..
“Passionate” was his comeback and admitted that he knew nothing that he was going to say was going to change my mind. But he tried to justify the unhealthy connections with No 10 and not a lot else.
The questions continued and we were asked to cast our votes which I did and said No to everything including the vote about donations to government which he said was there because it was an old voting sheets we had been given. So were the shareholders being given voting forms that weren’t valid or was he lying?
The day came to an end with some of us having been physically removed and some still around to pick up our packed lunch provided by BAE systems for the shareholders. Whilst we were standing round with our bags of food. I was more than surprised to find myself face to face with Mr Carr. His words were something along the lines that I was memorable, passionate and a presence that was one that could be not be ignored and he felt the need to come and talk to me to continue the conversation. So with my ego flattered by his charm, I must admit I did find his willingness to continue talking to me admirable although I am not fooling myself that this was nothing other than PR.
So the follow on conversation went something like this……….
” I understand that you are running a profitable organisation and profit is the name of the game and you are a defence company. But I have one request just one. Would your company be willing to donate 1% of it’s profits towards conflict resolution. We all know that before conflict turns to violence there is usually a build up over months sometimes years. Would it not be more advantageous and moral to go into the area with trained personal to get all sides around the table and work towards peaceful resolutions. This may take months even years but the cost in the long term would be far less than the long term costs of war, for the people, the children, the mothers, the sisters, the fathers, the sons, and the country. The long lasting psychological effects on the populations and the knock effects through resentment, anger and retaliation are ones we can not even quantify. What is happening is a catch 22 situation where countries/people/groups are armed and then more people are armed to defend and so on and so forth. So in fact Mr Carr your idea of peace and my idea of peace seem to be two entirely different things. My kind of peace means that your business would not have clients like Bahrain and Saudia Arabia if we initiated conflict resolutions before we started selling weapons of death. This would enable your company to use all it’s amazing technology and skills to benefit the world not destroy it. ” Simple solution to me.
Once again his response was not an answer but a suggestion, he thought I should go into the field of conflict resolution as he thought I could make a difference, with my passion and belief. Mr Carr hate to break it to you that’s what I am doing and why I am here in the first place. Please stand up and be counted you could lead the way ……………
P.S. Mr Carr I know you are going to be reading this and as much as you think you have earnt the title I would never call a fellow human Lord or Sir it holds no weight with me what so ever.