COMMUNICATIONS NEWS: Groups quiz BAe from inside annual meeting

Gideon Burrows

One of the world's biggest arms companies faced protests from a coalition of campaign groups at its annual meeting last week.

Friends of the Earth, Landmine Action and Campaign Against Arms Trade united for the first time to attend the annual meeting of BAe Systems, which makes fighter aircraft, small arms and explosives.

"We called on the directors of the company to take their duties to communities and the environment as seriously as they do the company's bottom line," said Hannah Griffiths, corporates campaigner at Friends of the Earth.

Around 50 campaigners, each holding one share in the company, were able to enter the meeting to question the board on arms sales to repressive regimes and the manufacture of controversial weaponry such as cluster bombs.

Some protesters were ejected by security staff after chanting anti-war slogans. Protests also took place outside the meeting.

The groups said they did not have enough shares to table a protest motion at the meeting, but were able to question the board for nearly three hours.

"Our questions were also appeals to the shareholders and the wider public to understand and act on the issues," said Martin Hogbin, campaigns director at Campaign Against Arms Trade. "We hope shareholders will persuade the company to act responsibly."

Sir Richard Evans, chairman of BAe Systems, told protesters the company does not act illegally.

"We consider all sales according to the laws of this country and the countries to which we sell," he said.

The meeting was the latest in a string of similar actions which have seen company boards under fire from shareholding protesters.

On 24 April, oil giant BP faced protests inside its AGM over the environment.

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