Supporters from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) turned out in force to shame arms giant BAE Systems at their Annual General Meeting AGM), accusing it of supporting repressive regimes through arms sales and unethical business practices. Acute questioning combined with high farce during the two hour meeting culminated in the attempted presentation of “Whitewasher of the year award to BAE Chairman, Dick Olver.

All this despite the AGM’s relocation from central London to Farnborough in Hampshire, a venue easily accessible to BAE employees in the area but not so convenient for shareholders and media. The FIVE venue is owned by ADS, the trade body of the arms industry, suggesting a retreat from more public spaces where arms dealers have faced consistent protests.

Protesters ridiculed Dick Olver’s claims that BAE was “one of the leading and most ethical companies.” A large contingent of security staff evicted thirteen people who expressed scorn and anger at the way the Chairman and CEO Ian King repeatedly evaded answering questions put to them about BAE’s policies and practices.

Questions focused on BAE’s weapons sales to and relationship with authoritarian governments, including BahrainLibya and Saudi Arabia. There was particular focus on Saudi Arabia, the largest customer for UK weaponry, where BAE has sold fighter jets, including the Eurofighter Typhoon, Tactica armoured personnel vehicles and MBDA Brimstone, Storm Shadow and Mistral missiles. Dick Olver was visibly riled when asked whether BAE had contingency plans for protests in Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes where it does significant business.

CAAT spokesperson Anne-Marie O’Reilly said:

We had a great turnout today and were able to put the BAE Chair and CEO on the spot with our questions. BAE is so keen to whitewash its image, that it moved its Annual General Meeting from a prestigious venue in Westminster back to home turf in Farnborough.

But we were there to challenge its weapons sales which boost human rights abusing regimes like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We ridiculed the chairman’s claims that doing the right thing “is becoming an almost subconscious response” by presenting him with a “Whitewasher of the Year” award.

The cost of BAE’s business is counted in lives lost and that’s why over forty campaigners made sure its AGM could not be a matter of business as usual.