Posts Tagged ‘Chemring’

Hong Kong withdraws from the DSEI arms exhibition.  Tear gas supplied by Chemring used by the police

The protests in Hong Kong have been going on since 9th June 2019 and we have seen regular incidents of violent police actions to quell the demonstrations.  There have also been what appear to be organised attacks by thugs wielding bars and clubs with no sign of any arrests or indeed of police at all.

A statement by Amnesty following the July events said:

The violent scenes in Yuen Long tonight were in part because Hong Kong police chose to inflame a tense situation rather than deescalate it.  For police to declare today’s protest unlawful was simply wrong under international law.

While police must be able to defend themselves, there were repeated instances today where police officers were the aggressors; beating retreating protesters, attacking civilians in the train station and targeting journalists.  Alarmingly, such a heavy-handed response now appears the modus operandi for Hong Kong police and we urge them to quickly change course.   Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong

The police have been using tear gas supplied by the UK company Chemring.  The firm has a factory outside Salisbury (pictured) although the cannisters are made by their plant in Derby.  It is still under investigation for money laundering, bribery and corruption by the Serious Fraud Office.


Chemring factory near Salisbury.  The CS gas cannisters are not made here but in their plant in Derby.  Photo: Salisbury Amnesty

Following similar incidents in 2014 – the umbrella movement – it was thought that a licence to sell tear gas was withheld or at least under review but it seems as though the company was free to sell it to the Hong Kong police.  This is part of a wider government policy of allowing UK companies to sell weapons to all kinds of regimes whilst allegedly claiming to enforce a strict control policy.  Chemring were granted an open licence in 2015.  The former foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, recently withdrew the licence following the weeks of violence which makes inviting HKPF to the DSEI arms fair odd.  The firm’s human rights policy (2019) says:

[We will] seek to uphold all internationally recognised human rights wherever our operations are based.  para 3.14, 2019

Hong Kong police withdrew from the DSEI arms fare to be held this week having been invited by the Dept. for International Trade the minister for which is Liz Truss.  A statement by the department said:

an invitation does not imply that any future export licences will be granted to Hong Kong

Campaign Against the Arms Trade, CAAT said:

The UK government approved the export of an unlimited quantity of crowd control equipment to Hong Kong.  Police in Hong Kong have used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and batons to violently disperse protests opposing the new Extradition Bill.  At least six people have been taken to hospital after inhaling tear gas.

There have been many protests about this fair which invites a number of countries many of which commit a range of human rights infringements, use torture and in the case of Saudi Arabia are bombing civilian targets in Yemen.

The Omega Research Foundation established in 1990, provides rigorous, objective, evidence-based research on the manufacture, trade, and use of, military, security and police (MSP) equipment.  Such technologies range from small arms and light weapons to large weapon systems; from policing technologies and prison equipment to equipment used for torture, amongst others.  A recent tweet from them shows a photograph of a CS gas cannisters which appears to be made by Chemring.

The substance of the Hong Kong protests is that they do not want individuals to be extradited to China whose legal system is corrupt.  Britain has a delicate role to play in protecting the agreement with China for ‘one country – two systems’.  We wish to see essential freedoms in the ex colony to be upheld.  Our integrity is a key component in that.  As in so many other countries around the world, our willingness to sell arms and MSP equipment risks compromising that integrity.


If you would like to join the local group you would be most welcome.  The best thing is to keep an eye on this site or on Facebook and Twitter, and make yourself known at an event.





Sources:  Financial Times; CAAT; Morning Star; Guardian; Fieldfisher; Omega Research Foundation; Chemring website


UPDATE: 8 September

Letter in today’s Guardian (8 September):

The government would do much better to raid the export credit guarantee scheme [rather than the overseas aid budget] and other subsidies to the arms trade. This would raise funds for refugee provision and reduce arms sales to Middle Eastern states, impacting directly on the latter’s ability to wage war on their and other populations in the region.

Benjamin Selwyn, Director, Centre for Global Political Economy, University of Sussex

Saudi Arabia

Last month, we wrote to John Glen MP asking that his government take a more robust line with the Saudi Arabian government in view of the large increase in executions and floggings, many of which are carried out in public.  We noted that the French president Francois Holland had spoken publicly against the practice despite large arms sales in the offing.  The British government has said it prefers to lobby in private and to pursue a policy of quiet diplomacy.  By contrast, the Swedish government has ended arms exports to the country.  As policies go, it is one which is conspicuous by its failure to achieve anything at all and in other contexts would be declared ‘not fit for purpose’.

No to the death penaltyA recently published report by Amnesty shows that Saudi Arabia is one the top three world executioners after China (which executes thousands but the statistics are a state secret) and Iran.  Between January 1985 and June 2015, 2,208 were put to death.  102 have been executed in the first 6 months of 2015.  Crimes include ‘witchcraft,’ ‘sorcery’ and ‘apostasy’.   In some cases relatives are often not notified of the execution.

The FCO’s July in-year update on Saudi says:

We remain concerned about the continued use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia, including the fact that trials and executions do not meet the minimum standards which the EU advocates in countries where the death penalty is applied. We regularly raise the issue with the Saudi authorities, bilaterally and through the EU, and will continue to do so. There has been a significant rise in the number of executions this year. While no official figures are published, according to statistics reported by NGOs over 100 people have been executed since 1 January. NGOs report that the majority of executions were for murder and drug-related offences

In response to our letter to Mr Glen, we received a letter from a FCO minister, Mr Tobias Ellwood, which assured us that the Foreign Office was doing all it could to end the practice and that ‘the abolition of the death penalty is a human rights priority for the UK’.  The HMG Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty (2010 – 2015) states:

Promoting human rights and democracy is a priority for the UK.  It is a long standing policy of the UK to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle (p2)

Within days of receiving this letter however, we discovered that it is no longer an explicit FCO policy.  The new policy has dropped any reference to abolishing the death penalty.  We also noted that Private Eye had a piece on the very same Mr Ellwood who had been a guest of the Saudi Government on a £6,000 fact-finding visit sponsored by a defence forum.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that defence sales matter far more than the dreadful human rights situation in countries like Saudi Arabia which – apart from public floggings and beheadings – tortures its citizens and has severe restrictions on the lives of its women.  Saudi Arabia is the leading destination for UK arms sales amounting to £1.6bn in 2014.

Nicholas Gilby of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) reported on the high level of corruption in this industry:

This paper examines the Government’s approach to corruption within the UK arms industry and shows it has very dirty hands …

… civil servants told to ‘look the other way’ and not ask awkward questions.

Chemring, which has one of its factories just outside Salisbury, had sales to Saudi Arabia of £47.8m last year and £97.6m in 2013 (source: annual report).

UK governments have invested a lot into the arms trade.  Support includes marketing support via DESO (Defence Exports Services Organisation); export credit guarantees; around £26m in R&D costs and something called ‘launch customer support’ which is buying weapons from a UK supplier even though overseas suppliers are cheaper.  There are also missions by ministers and members of the Royal family to foreign countries like Saudi.

Could it be that the Foreign Office was embarrassed by such an explicit policy in the face of a rising tide of executions in countries such as Saudi Arabia; Pakistan and India, all countries where arms sales are important?

Successive governments have claimed a devotion to human rights and a commitment to end the death penalty.  The reality it seems is that arms sales trump this commitment and in dropping the express statement of policy, the FCO is at least being honest.

Following the change of wording by the FCO which seemed to be in contradiction to the assurances given to us by the minister and Mr Glen, we wrote again asking why the policy had changed.  We await a reply…

CAAT report