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BAE boss lectures on ethics – a bad joke?

Cordula Bieri describes how a CAAT protest took on a comic theme to highlight the absurdity of an arms company boss speaking on ethics.

On a cold and wet Thursday evening, 12 November 2009, supporters of Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) gathered outside Savoy Place in central London to have a good laugh. What happened?

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) invited BAE Systems’ Chairman, Dick Olver, to give its annual Mountbatten Memorial Lecture on ethics. The head of a company which is being investigated in several countries for alleged corruption and bribery and yet still denies any wrongdoing. So, naturally, we were really interested in what he had to tell us about ethics.

CAAT supporter Dan, dressed as Dick Olver, gave people a warm welcome and invited them to come inside to listen to what an arms dealer might have to say about ethics. His announcements were met with hysterical laughter. Close by a sad clown was weeping  – what future would he have as a comic with the BAE boss bagging all the laughter?

Some CAAT supporters joined the audience inside to listen to Dick Olver’s presentation. In fact, his lecture was rather unexciting.  He talked a lot about ethical leadership and the crucial role of engineers in solving major global challenges. He mentioned various examples of ethical dilemmas engineers might face, but failed to mention any ethical dilemmas when selling deadly arms to countries in conflict or with great development needs.

Dick Olver called on universities, professional bodies, governments and companies to work together to solve ethical dilemmas. He didn’t acknowledge that civil society might also be interested in defining what is ethical and what is not.

After his speech the audience members asked questions about corruption, the Nimrod scandal and the ethics of arms trade in general. Unfortunately, the time for questions passed much too quickly. So we will have to wait until the next opportunity presents itself to question Dick Olver.

A warm thank you to all the CAAT supporters who protested outside and asked critical questions inside!

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