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BAE: Bribery allegations - or just a way of doing business?

Dave Harvey | 10:35 UK time, Thursday, 1 October 2009

"One man's bribe is another man's commission." That's how one leading Bristol business guru reacted to the furore over today's announcement that BAE Systems face allegations of bribery.

British Aerospace's old Bristol factory
Across the west country, thousands of people work, broadly speaking, in the defence business. 3,500 work at Airbus in Filton, and their A400M plane - the replacement for today's Hercules transport aircraft - is a key programme. South Africa and Malaysia are key customers for this plane.

TyphoonsOver the road at Rolls Royce, 1,800 people work on the military programmes, making engines for the Typhoon and components for the new Joint Strike Fighter.

We've been at it a long time around here. The test track at Swindon's Honda plant was once a runway for the Spitfire factory. The other great hero of the Battle of Britain, the Hawker Hurricane, was created up the road by the Gloster Aircraft Company.

Today, military suppliers need international customers to survive (actually, they always have). And there are those who argue that if you trade with Arab states or South East Asia, you must expect different rules of business. "Is it a backhander - or just the way the Arab Princes expect to trade?" asked Mike Warburton, senior partner at Grant Thornton in Bristol.

Today's charges, of course, are not about Arabs. The deal with Tanzania was tiny, just £22m. And for Graham Davey of the Bristol Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the amount of business it brought wasn't worth the questionable ethics involved. The SFO will decide whether BAE strayed, of course, but the debate is already alive.

"Does South Africa need to spend £3bn on arms, when it has an Aids epidemic and chronic poverty?" asks Graham Davey. Maybe not, I counter - but you can hardly blame BAE simply for meeting an order. "That is the argument of the drug pusher," he replies. "It's not a trade we should be in, and certainly not in the underhand way that these deals are done."

For Mike Warburton though, this is a real industry, trading worldwide and employing thousands. BAE is the UK's largest manufacturer, and Mike worries that the SFO will be sending out a message that Britain is no longer serious about the defence business.

So what about you? Should we accept different standards round the world, and encourage a strong sector which employs thousands round here? Or is it time to clean up Britain's arms trade?


  • Comment number 1.

    Please tell the old chap that hates war and cares little about british jobs that 'Pacifism is a luxury,paid for by warriors'

  • Comment number 2.

    BAE Systems Arms deal
    There is a fine dividing line between the words commission and bribery with respect to the arms trade. I believe it is standard practice within this type of business otherwise there would be no need for it and every country does it. So why do we penalise our industries, especially when it is not defrauding anyone or business in this country, the countries that we sell to are not complaining, so why is the FSA so interested?
    If BAE did not sale these arms then France, Germany, USA etc. would. BAE is one of the biggest industrial companies in the UK, providing the much needed work in our declining industrial base. If we keep attacking them and fining them then eventually they will have no option but move abroad or the buyers will go else were to avoid the publicity.
    Let us stop playing cricket, it is in our interest to keep what industrial base we have left alive, not kill it as we have been doing over the past 20 years.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just met a nice bloke in Redland unloading lawnmowers from an old cut off VW who wanted to add "my own rant" as he put it, to this debate:
    "Bristol's built on slaves, fags and the arms trade", he said, "and we should get used to it. It's nothing to be proud of, and the sooner we can get some healthy business round here the better."
    So, 'shameusman', is it really a choice between ethics and jobs? Or is it possible to do both?

  • Comment number 4.

    "It's nothing to be proud of, and the sooner we can get some healthy business round here the better."

    Exactly. It's not something that can be done overnight, here or elsewhere in the country, but we need to accept that a lot of jobs are reliant on the arms trade, that this is not something that should continue and make positive changes. Exploit different markets and gradually move towards a more ethical economy. I don't have a magic wand, I don't even really know how to do it but I firmly believe it should be attempted, at the very least.

  • Comment number 5.

    I can't agree with Graham Davey's comment that the demand / supply argument "is the argument of the drug pusher,". There is as demand for drugs because of irrational addication to banned substances.

    The arms trade in the UK can only sell to approved nations as specified by the government, often many of the arms deals are no doubt heavily linked in with diplomacy and national security, why do you think Tony Blair was so keen on hushing up the saudi investigation?

  • Comment number 6.

    Dave Harvey:

    Should we accept different standards round the world, and encourage a strong sector which employs thousands round here? (No..But, this is not going to change unless massive changes are not enforced)

    Or is it time to clean up Britain's arms trade? (Yes)

    ~Dennis Junior~


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