gaza human rights

Scottish Enterprise criticised over human rights checks on firms selling to Israel and Saudi Arabia

Hundreds of human rights checks have been made on companies seeking grants from Scottish Enterprise since 2019, and no firm has failed, despite some having links to states accused of war crimes, including Israel and Saudi Arabia.

A new human rights procedure was introduced by Scottish Enterprise (SE) in March 2019, following criticism of the public body for funding arms firms selling to countries with poor human rights records. 

SE is a non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government which provides business grants using taxpayers’ money. Its human rights due diligence checks include assessing whether a company has been “associated with human rights abuses anywhere in the world”.

Despite that commitment, SE has given taxpayers’ money to firms linked to countries accused of violations in wars in Gaza and Yemen, as well as two Scottish universities linked to illegal West Bank settlements.

Amnesty International UK called on the Scottish Government to give a “cast iron assurance” that no public funding is linked to the current war in Gaza. The Scottish Greens said any human rights test which Saudi Arabia passes “clearly isn’t fit for purpose”, and that arms sales to Israel risk “facilitating war crimes against Palestinian civilians”. 

Scottish Enterprise told The Ferret that “rigorous human rights due diligence checks are carried out on all companies”.  

A freedom of information (FoI) request by The Ferret revealed that 199 human rights checks have been conducted by SE since 1 January 2021. Every company passed.

In our view, any sale of arms or their components to Israel risks facilitating war crimes against Palestinian civilians.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK

Our inquiry followed a FoI reply by SE in 2020 revealing that 178 firms had undergone human rights checks since they were introduced in March 2019, and no firm had failed.

Companies who have received taxpayers’ money include French multinational Thales which has a factory in Glasgow. Last year Thales was targeted by activists from Palestine Action Scotland(PAS) who occupied the roof of its premises in Linthouse, near the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

PAS said it targeted Thales due to its cooperation with Israeli weapons company Elbit Systems on the Watchkeeper Drone project. In 2013 War on Want claimed the Watchkeeper drone technology had been field tested in attacks on Gaza. It claims that Elbit Systems is one of several major Israeli arms companies that profit from Israel’s military occupation  To that end it claims the company demonstrates “Scottish complicity in the apartheid, dispossession and ethnic cleansing enacted on Palestinians by the Israeli occupation”. Israel categorically denies being an apartheid state. Thales did not reply to our requests for a comment.

US arms multinational Raytheon has also received taxpayers’ money. It makes laser guidance systems for smart bombs in Glenrothes, Fife, which have been linked to alleged war crimes in both Yemen and Gaza, as revealed by The Ferret. Raytheon is a supplier of arms to Israel. Raytheon did not reply to our request for a comment.

Italian arms firm Leonardo MW, based in Edinburgh, has received around £7.5m in grants from SE since 2015. It produces technology for F16 fighter jets which were used by Turkey to bomb the city of Afrin in Syria in 2018 – an offensive described at the time by critics as “ethnic cleansing”. Leonardo also sells to Israel and its Edinburgh factory was targeted by pro-Palestinian protestors in February this year, when they occupied its roof. Leonardo did not reply to our request for a comment.

Scottish universities’ links to illegal West Bank settlements

Despite links to illegal West Bank settlements the universities of Glasgow and St Andrews have also received SE grants. In 2021, The Ferret revealed Glasgow University had a total of £751,568 invested in companies linked to the settlements which are illegal under international law. 

In 2021 St Andrews University held 11,910 shares in Puma, worth £707,988. In 2019, over 200 Palestinian football teams wrote a letter to Puma, calling on it to end its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association (IFA), which includes six football teams based in the illegal settlements. Critics argued it was lending legitimacy to the settlements and to Israeli human rights abuses. Puma also sponsors Manchester City football club, and in June protesters called on it to end that sponsorship deal. Puma has stressed it does not support any political direction, political parties or governments.

Both universities were asked to comment.

Scottish Enterprise’s due diligence procedure

SE’s customer due diligence procedure says that “one particular area of concern for Scottish Enterprise when doing business is human rights”, and it cites the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights  which sets out responsibilities for states and businesses in relation to human rights.

“This includes an assessment of whether an individual or company, including any parent or subsidiary, has been associated with human rights abuses anywhere in the world,” SE’s procedure says.

human rights glasgow university
The universities of Glasgow and St Andrews have also received grants from Scottish Enterprise. Image: David Simpson/iStock

Due diligence concerns

Those voicing concerns over SE’s process include Sacha Deshmukh, chief executive of Amnesty International UK, who said there should be a “clear pathway for refusing grants” as part of SE’s human rights due diligence process. He urged SE to explain how it is assessing companies and to develop “transparent and independently governed ethical policies to prevent human rights abuses linked to its business relationships”.

He added: “There’s clear evidence that Israel’s military conduct in Gaza since 7 October has included indiscriminate attacks which have killed and injured large numbers of Palestinian civilians.

“In our view, any sale of arms or their components to Israel risks facilitating war crimes against Palestinian civilians, and Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Government must give a cast iron assurance that no Scottish public funding is involved.”

Ross Greer MSP, of the Scottish Greens, said: “The Scottish Government has rightly criticised the appalling and inhumane collective punishment Israel has inflicted on two million Palestinians in Gaza.

“If this human rights check, which the Scottish Greens fought to secure in the first place, is to mean anything at all then it must surely stop these payments to those who arm the likes of Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

A spokesperson for SE said: “Rigorous human rights due diligence checks are carried out on all companies we work with in line with Scottish Government guidance, including the use of independent evidence gathered by third party organisations.

“Our legally binding contracts make it clear to defence companies that our support must only be used to help deliver an agreed project at a Scottish site that facilitates continued diversification into civilian markets with a view to sustaining and growing employment.”

A BAE Systems spokesperson told The Ferret the company is committed to “ethical and responsible behaviour in all aspects of what we do”. They added: “Our industry is amongst the most highly regulated of any sector and we always strive to comply with – and often exceed – the requirements of applicable laws and regulations.”

Regarding BAE Systems’ role in supporting the Royal Saudi Arabian Armed Forces, the spokesperson said this is “clearly defined and strictly limited to providing equipment, support and training under government to government agreements” between the UK and Saudi Arabia. “This work is subject to stringent UK defence export regulations and does not involve the company in military operational activity,” they added.

Potential corporate complicity

In 2019, several arms firms based in Scotland were named in a report sent to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), regarding alleged war crimes in Yemen. 

The ECCHR made an official request asking the ICC to investigate the role of executives of arms companies and licensing officials in European states, including the UK. It requested an investigation into their potential complicity in 26 airstrikes in Yemen which unlawfully killed or injured civilians, and destroyed or damaged schools, hospitals and other protected objects.

The arms companies named were Raytheon UK, Leonardo, BAE Systems and Thales who have collectively received millions of pounds from SE over the past decade, as reported by The Ferret.

Our investigation comes as the war between Israel and Hamas continues. Israel launched an offensive in Gaza after Hamas murdered an estimated 1,400 people in Israel on 7 October 2023 and took more than 200 hostages, including 37 children. Most of the hostages remain in captivity

Israel responded with airstrikes on Gaza and has launched a ground offensive. At the time of writing, Palestinian officials said 10,569 people have now been killed in Gaza, with 40 per cent of them children.

Last week Human Rights Watch called for a suspension of arms transfers to Israel and Hamas. It argued there is a “real risk that they will be used to commit grave abuses” and warned that providing weapons “can make those providing them complicit in war crimes”.

HRW said that Israel and Palestinian armed groups have committed “serious abuses amounting to war crimes” during the current hostilities. “Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups deliberately killed hundreds of civilians in Israel on October 7, 2023, and took more than 200 hostage,” HRW said. “Israel then cut electricity, fuel, food and water to Gaza’s population and severely curtailed life-saving humanitarian aid, all of which are acts of collective punishment.”

The Ferret revealed in September that SE had given over £8m in public grants to companies exhibiting at a London arms fair called DSEI which hosted states accused of human rights violations. 

The guest list had countries condemned by human rights group Amnesty International, including Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UAE and Uzbekistan.

Companies in receipt of funding from SE exhibiting at DSEI included Leonardo, Raytheon Systems, and Thales UK.

UK Government statistics, compiled by Campaign Against Arms Trade, show that in the last 10 years the UK has licensed at least £486m worth of arms to Israel.

The Scottish Government has been asked to comment.

Main image: iStock/Joyclynn

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