Killing People. An Ethical Dimension?


‘There is no acceptable number of fatalities or serious accidents and I am personally committed to ensuring that we continue to drive improvements in safety performance.’ This was in reference to an industrial accident in Lancashire which caused the death of an employee. Hang on though – the man who said this was Mike Turner, Chief Executive of BAE Systems, in his company’s Corporate Responsibility Report for 2005. Further on we have ‘BAE Systems recognises its responsibilities to the people it employs, its customers and suppliers, its shareholders, the wider community and the environment’ (my emphasis). “No!” as that Harry Enfield character used to say “No!”


BAE Systems is the fourth largest arms firm in the world. It exists to make weapons, the planes, ships and tanks which deliver them and the high tech equipment which coordinates their delivery. These weapons kill people when used and even when not used are, in my view, an unacceptable tax on the world’s resources.


Those who think BAE Systems puts ‘defending British citizens’ as its top priority probably haven’t studied the company’s actions over the last few years or looked too closely at the forces that motivate such organisations. The emphasis at BAE is all on expansion in the United States. It is the US that is the big – military – spender with around $450 billion ‘defence’ spending every year - as much as the whole of the rest of the world put together. BAE wants to make sure that it gets as large a slice as possible. The Saudis with the Al Yamamah deal are also enthusiastic shoppers and though the War on Terror may have brought suffering for many it’s been great for BAE Systems. With so many exciting things going on who wants to build air raid shelters?


What of the future? ‘Over 350 employees (called ambassadors) from BAE Systems visit schools in the UK to help with engineering projects and to give careers advice. Our UK Education Programme primarily targets 10 to 13 year olds. . . . .


Over coffee after this year’s AGM I asked the man in charge of Corporate Responsibility if the word ‘Orwellian’ didn’t keep popping into his mind. All I got was a baffled denial. Yes I will definitely be attending the AGM again next year with a few questions to ask.


Mary Holmes