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How BAE Systems helped arm half the world – recommendations and conclusion

What is this report? BAE Systems, benefiting from global conflicts and threats of war, has seen recent unprecedented profit growth, highlighting the lucrative nature of the arms trade amidst global instability. This 2024 report – “How BAE Systems helped arm half the world” – from Action on Armed Violence investigates BAE Systems’ secretive client list spanning the previous decade, and scrutinises the ethical implications of arming countries with dubious human rights records and unstable political regimes.

Recommendations

AOAV proposes the following five policy recommendations in order to address the wider ethical, human rights, and corruption concerns raised in this report:

1. Enhanced Transparency and Accountability in Arms Sales

  • Implement stricter regulations requiring arms manufacturers and their government partners to disclose details of arms sales, including the end users, terms of use, and the intended purpose of the arms being sold.
  • Establish an enforced international registry of arms sales to facilitate global oversight and ensure transparency in the international arms trade.

2. Strengthening International and National Regulatory Frameworks

  • Strengthen the enforcement of existing international treaties and agreements on arms trade, such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), to ensure that arms exports are not contributing to human rights abuses, violations of international humanitarian law, or exacerbating conflicts.
  • Countries should adopt and enforce national legislation that aligns with the ATT, including provisions that prevent arms sales to countries with poor human rights records or those under international sanctions.

3. Due Diligence and Risk Assessment

  • Arms manufacturers should be required to conduct comprehensive due diligence and risk assessments before entering into contracts, taking into account the potential for human rights abuses, the risk of corruption, and the potential for the arms to be used in the presence of civilian populations.
  • These assessments should be made publicly available to ensure accountability 

4. Promoting Ethical Business Practices

  • Encourage arms manufacturers to adopt and rigorously implement international best practices for ethical business conduct, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
  • Develop and enforce strict anti-corruption measures and ethical guidelines for arms manufacturers and their supply chains to prevent bribery, corruption, and unethical lobbying.

5. Enhancing Oversight and Sanctions

  • National governments should establish independent mechanisms to monitor arms sales and investigate allegations of unethical practices, human rights abuses, and violations of international law.
  • Implement sanctions and penalties for arms manufacturers and government officials found to be involved in unauthorised arms sales, corruption, or contributing to human rights abuses.

Conclusion

AOAV’s thorough analysis of BAE Systems PLC’s business operations and global arms trade engagements over the last ten years paints a multifaceted and concerning portrait of the international arms industry. 

As a major British arms producer with extensive links, both confirmed and reported, to 93 countries—representing nearly half of all United Nations member states—BAE Systems has profoundly influenced the global defense landscape. This expansive reach, including definite ties with 81 countries and reported connections with an additional 12 from 2013 to 2023, underscores the breadth of their impact. 

The company’s clientele features nearly all of the top 40 nations by military spending, including 18 of the top 20 as ranked by SIPRI for 2022, highlighting BAE Systems’ central role in the global arms market. However, this extensive network has also been associated with significant ethical, human rights, and legal challenges. For instance, more than half (55%) of these countries score below 50 out of 100 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, indicating prevalent issues of corruption within these relationships. 

BAE Systems’ involvement extends to regions with unstable political climates and weak human rights records. Notably, of the 17 countries that have experienced military coups over the past decade, nine have been linked to BAE Systems produced weaponry, with definite dealings in five of these cases. 

Additionally, in 13 of the 32 countries identified as human rights priorities by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, BAE Systems has definite relationships with ten and reported relationships with three. 

The ethical quandaries extend to the utilisation of arms sold by BAE Systems, particularly the deployment of explosive weapons in populated areas. From 2013 onwards, AOAV has documented 6,292 incidents of explosive weapons use in 29 of the 81 confirmed BAE Systems client states, leading to approximately 44,103 civilian casualties, including 24,019 deaths. The extent of BAE Systems’ weaponry in these incidents remains uncertain but is undoubtedly troubling. 

This extensive review by AOAV not only raises critical questions about the ethical dimensions of BAE Systems’ practices but also about the broader consequences of such global arms transactions on international peace, security, and human rights. The connection of these arms dealings to internal and international conflicts and military coups underscores the potential role that international arms sales play in exacerbating political instability and undermining efforts to maintain human rights and the rule of law. 

As the global community continues to confront the dual challenges of ensuring national security and advancing human rights and peace, the activities of companies like BAE Systems and their international dealings remain central to ongoing debates. These revelations necessitate a reevaluation of the moral implications of the arms trade and call for heightened transparency, accountability, and ethical engagement within the industry.

Contrary to the sentiments of BAE Systems’ Chairman, Sir Roger Carr, perhaps the moral dimension of the arms trade should supersede all other arguments. 

We hope this report helps put that belief into practise.

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