Arms firms with factories in Scotland are failing to undertake proper human rights checks which could prevent their products from being used in potential war crimes, according to a new report.
Amnesty International says that the world’s biggest arms companies are “washing their hands of their responsibilities”. The companies include Leonardo, BAE Systems and Raytheon, who all have factories in Scotland.
Ahead of the trade event which attracts protests, Amnesty contacted 22 arms companies from 11 countries asking them to explain how they meet their responsibilities regarding human rights under internationally-recognised standards.
Fourteen of the companies failed to respond. None of the eight firms that did reply – Airbus, BAE Systems, Leonardo, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, Saab and Thales – were able to demonstrate due diligence, Amnesty says.
Many of these companies have made millions from supplying arms and services for the Saudi Arabia/UAE-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen, where it has been accused of committing scores of war crimes and serious human rights violations.
BAE Systems and Raytheon – among others – have been integral to the coalition’s Yemeni war effort, arming a fleet of combat aircraft that has repeatedly struck civilian objects including homes, schools, hospitals and marketplaces.
The Ferret has previously revealed links between US arms firm Raytheon, which makes smart bombs in Fife, and alleged war crimes in Yemen. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Leonardo have all been given taxpayers’ money via grants from Scottish Enterprise, as first reported by The Ferret in 2017.
Amnesty says that none of these companies explained what human rights due diligence they had undertaken to assess and address the risks of supplying arms and services to the coalition.
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, all companies have a responsibility to undertake human rights due diligence to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address both their potential and actual human rights impacts.
In relation to the defence sector, this means companies must assess and address human rights risks and abuses arising in all aspects of their business, including how clients such as national armies and police forces use their weaponry.
Patrick Wilcken, arms control researcher at Amnesty International, said: “While states like the UK are – rightly – being pursued in the courts for their reckless arms deals, the corporations who profit from supplying arms to countries involved in these conflicts have largely escaped scrutiny.
“Not one of the companies we contacted was able to demonstrate adequate human rights due diligence. Not only does this show an alarming indifference to the human cost of their business, it could potentially expose these companies and their bosses to prosecution for complicity in war crimes.”
Wilcken continued: “Most companies who responded to Amnesty made the argument that responsibility for human rights assessments lies with their home states through the arms licensing process. But government regulation does not exempt companies – no matter what sector they operate in – from carrying out their own human rights due diligence.
“Hiding behind governments is not good enough – especially when licence decisions have been shown to be flawed, and governments issuing licences are themselves being challenged over their role in war crimes and other violations.”
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said that the arms trade does not just rely on the work of “supportive governments” and requires “thousands of companies and individuals that are prepared to sell deadly equipment around the world, regardless of the terrible consequences”.
He added: “The companies cited in this report have been pouring weapons into conflict zones for years, which has fuelled war and made terrible situations even worse. By arming and supporting repressive regimes, these companies are making themselves complicit in the atrocities and abuses that are being committed.”
That British arms dealers have nothing approaching a moral compass is entirely unsurprising. Sadly, it's equally unsurprising that the Westminster government is more than happy to continue issuing export licenses, letting these companies sell their deadly products to the world's most brutal regimes. Ross Greer MP
Scottish Green MSP, Ross Greer, said: “That British arms dealers have nothing approaching a moral compass is entirely unsurprising. Sadly, it’s equally unsurprising that the Westminster government is more than happy to continue issuing export licenses, letting these companies sell their deadly products to the world’s most brutal regimes.”
He added: “The Scottish government though, have serious questions to answer here, having given hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money to the reprehensible firms listed in Amnesty’s report. As a supposedly ‘rights-respecting government’ how can they possibly justify continuing their taxpayer-funded support for these rogue actors?”
BAE Systems described Amnesty’s conclusions as “false and misleading”, adding that it applies “measured and appropriate policy and process of its own in respect of compliance with laws and regulation” through its product trading policy.
When questioned on human rights due diligence in relation to BAE’s trade with Saudi Arabia, the company said: “Our activities in Saudi Arabia are subject to UK government approval and oversight.”
The Italian company Leonardo – a firm with a factory in Edinburgh that has received around £7 million from Scottish Enterprise – said that Amnesty’s conclusions were “not completely fair” and that the company did carry out human rights due diligence which went beyond compliance with national licensing laws and regulations.
However, Amnesty says that Leonardo did not explain how these policies work in practice in concrete situations – for example, in exports to the Saudi Arabia/UAE coalition for use in the Yemen conflict.
Raytheon said it has a “strong commitment to, and respect for, human rights”. Its statement to Amnesty added: “Our company has implemented robust policies, procedures, and practices to ensure compliance with laws of each of the many jurisdictions around the world where we do business. Raytheon’s sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia have been and remain in compliance with US law.”
The companies that did not respond to Amnesty were: Arquus (France), Avibras (Brazil), Boeing (US), Dassault Aviation (France), Elbit Systems (Israel), Embraer (Brazil), Heckler and Koch (Germany), General Dynamics (US), Herstal Group (Belgium), Norinco (China), Northrop Grumman (US), Remington Outdoor (US), Rosoboronexport (Russia) and Zastava (Serbia).
Meanwhile, the campaign group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has written a letter to Liz Truss MP, the UK’s new Secretary of State for International Trade, with a summary of all violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition documented by its researchers.
In the letter HRW’s UK director, Benjamin Ward, urged Truss to act. “Given the UK’s own export licence rules, you should suspend licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners until there is clear evidence proving that the coalition has both curbed its abuses in Yemen, and has taken serious measures to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for past violations,” he said.
“It is Human Rights Watch’s assessment, based on years of investigation and monitoring, that these conditions have not been met.”
The Department for International Trade has been asked to comment.