Challenging arms companies
Challenging a local arms company
Arms companies always deny any responsibility for arms exports, arguing that the government alone is responsible. But whilst the government must take its share of the blame, so too must the companies themselves after all, it is they who produce the armaments and they who bank the profits. Here we look at ways to challenge arms companies in your area.
It is almost certain that within a short distance from where you live there is a company involved in some way with the arms trade. If you are interested to find out about companies in your area, contact us at the CAAT office.
However, we are not able to track every company and need local people to help us undertake research. This can include everything from watching out for information about the company in your local press to undertaking some basic research about the company in your local library. It's amazing how much information libraries have on local companies. You could also approach the company directly for information. A good guide to company research has been produced by Corporate Watch.
If you are interested in helping CAAT with its company research, please contact CAAT's Research Co-ordinator on 0207 281 0297 or research(at)caat·org·uk.
CAAT believes that it is important to directly challenge UK companies involved in the arms trade. One way to do this is through organising a protest at a site of one of the companies. This has the effect of letting the company know that many people do not think that the arms business is an ordinary, acceptable business. In addition, a protest can quite often generate a lot of publicity, which will raise awareness about the company and the arms trade in general.
CAAT is a nonviolent organisation and any protest organised under the name of CAAT needs to be nonviolent (see protest guidelines below).
The CAAT office can help you organise a protest, but some tips for organising a successful one include:
- Prepare some visual banners, placards or props
- Contact your local media (see section in this guide for tips!)
- Have some leaflets to hand out explaining what you are doing and why
- Agree a start and end time
- Take time afterwards to discuss with other participants what went well and any learning points
- Take lots of pictures and send us the best ones!
Nonviolent direct action
CAAT believes that if nonviolent direct action (NVDA) or civil disobedience is properly organised and if people are properly prepared, it can be a good way to take the campaign forward. Some years ago, whilst CAAT was campaigning to end the sale of Hawk aircraft and other military equipment to Indonesia, many people got together in small groups and undertook civil disobedience against the main company involved. For example, people stood on the runway at BAE's test facility in Warton to prevent the company test-flying the aircraft. People also disrupted the company's AGM.
If you are considering taking nonviolent direct action:
- Get in touch with CAATs Local Campaigns Coordinator for advice.
- Think about getting some training (see Useful Information on page 17).
- Spend time with the people you will do the action with to build up trust and plan for the action.
- Reflect on what roles you will need to allocate (e.g. legal observer, police liaison, media liaison, food and drink provision) and how you will make decisions during the action.
- Find out your legal rights. Activists Legal Project website is a good place to start.
CAAT is a nonviolent organisation. Words and actions must be nonviolent and be seen by those external to CAAT as being nonviolent. Please refer to CAAT protest guidelines.
Nonviolent direct action example
Students across the UK have been taking action against BAE Systems
In Birmingham a group of students from the People and Planet society entered the lecture theatre where a BAE recruitment presentation was being held and managed to briefly capture the lectern to address the audience on BAE's corruption and human rights abuses around the world. The students then stayed to hear BAE's own presentation and ask questions at the end. The protest followed a demonstration at a Careers Fair where students dressed as weapons inspectors cordoned off BAE's stall to gather evidence against the company. They also gave out leaflets and held a mass die in. These protests are part of a wider campaign against the presence of arms companies on campus, and their widespread involvement in university research.
Lancaster University students also protested against BAE Systems presence at their careers fair. They stood in front of BAEs stall with a banner reading "Get a career in killing with BAE Systems", and handed out leaflets and talked to students around the stall. Later they moved to one of the busiest parts of campus to hold a die-in around a banner reading "BAE Systems: a job to die for". Many people stopped to ask about BAE and the protest. Two students later re-entered the careers fair and dropped a banner from a balcony. These actions mark the beginning of a campaign against the university's investment in BAE. Lancaster University holds shares in BAE, and the Management School offers students the BAE Systems Certificate in Management, a course funded by, and run in conjunction with, the company.
At the end of term the Disarm UCL campaign put on a fake graduation ceremony to protest against UCL's investment in arms companies. One student dressed as a military general handed out fake diplomas and toy guns to other students graduating in camouflage uniforms. The action definitely turned a few heads including that of the UCL Provost who happened to pass by. It was a fun action and got a lot of media coverage including the Times Higher, the Independent, the Evening Standard, the Guardian's Comment is Free website and the New Statesman website.
- Why not try to begin a correspondence with the chief executive of your local arms company?
- Think of a way to subvert arms company PR campaigns. For example, use their advertisements in newspapers as an opportunity to write in to raise awareness of the true impact of arms company activities.
- Some of the larger arms companies sponsor sports and community events. Try to challenge these attempts to gain good PR for the arms trade. For example, Chichester Area CAAT challenged the sponsorship of a local theatre production of "Funny Girl" by US arms company Lockheed Martin.
Campaign example from the Clean Investment Campaign
Mike Kavanagh outlines Manchester CAAT's ongoing campaign against Local Authority pension funds investment in the arms trade
"Manchester CAAT launched a clean investment campaign in 2005. Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) is one of the UK's biggest local authority pension funds, with over 200,000 members. In 2007 it was worth over £9.5 billion. Letter-writing to the fund, and protests at its open days for pensioners about its UK arms investments were initially regular events. Freedom of Information Act requests, however, revealed the fund also had arms investments in US, European and other overseas arms companies.
The 2005 campaign included producing leaflets on the issue, with separate petitions for fund members and council tax-payers to sign; this was well covered by the local media. Protests outside all the ten local authorities Town Halls were also held during 2005. We wrote to all Greater Manchester Councillors and correspondence was started with all ten council leaders. A website explained the campaign and allowed individuals to send a letter of protest to Tameside Council's leader. Trafford Council, Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors, the Fund's UNISON representatives and Greater Manchester's UNISON branches gave their support as well as the Green Party and others. Further work with UNISON led to a resolution on local authority pension funds arms investments being passed at its 2007 national conference with another resolution expected on UNISON's 2008 conference agenda.
Manchester CAAT's actions led to considerable debate and increased awareness across Greater Manchester of the issue, and there have been reports in 2008 that the fund has reduced its arms investments. We believe that continued wide-ranging efforts, from letter-writing to protests etc, will ultimately lead to the end of arms investments being held by local authority pension funds."