The head of BAE Systems just claimed it’s ‘not his job’ to campaign for LGBT rights overseas
The chairman of a multi-billion pound defence company has said that advocating for LGBT rights overseas is not his priority.
Sir Roger Carr, Chairman of BAE Systems, made the comments at The Economist‘s Pride and Prejudice event on Thursday.
Carr initially stated the importance of making LGBT employees internationally feel comfortable in their positions, even in countries with notably anti-LGBT regimes.
“We still have much to do to make people from the LGBT community feel comfortable,” Carr said.
“We have 83,000 people all over the world, and there are pockets of people – in the Middle East particularly, where there are still laws and rules that work against the sense of full inclusion.
“If people aren’t comfortable in that environment we don’t ask them to stay in that environment, but as people working within that country, we believe we have a responsibility to do as much as we can do within the company to improve behaviour.”
The businessman then used the example of Saudi Arabia, where the company has over 5000 employees, to state that he did not believe that directly advocating for human rights was the correct way of changing oppressive governments.
Carr stated: “In the case of Saudi Arabia where we’ve been for 50 years, we were the first major employer to take women into senior roles… which was quite a brave thing to do.
“To be inclusive is the right thing to do and it’s good for the company.
“This is a personal view, but I don’t think we should stand up as advocates against political regimes.”
He continued: “What we should do is run our businesses in the most appropriate, fair and positive way to demonstrate the behaviours we are doing is the best way of doing business, and therefore influence views and feelings in the countries.
“I don’t think it’s our job to stand up as pressure groups against countries and their laws. We are there to influence but not to campaign.”
Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia, where gay people can face imprisonment, violent punishments or even the death penalty.
The US and UK governments have come under pressure in the past over their close relationships with Saudi Arabia, which is a major ally of the West in the Middle East.
BAE Systems is the largest supplier of military equipment to the Ministry of Defence, with contracts between the organisations valued at over £3 billion in 2010.
Others on the event panel challenged Carr’s assertion.
Jayne Anne Gadhia, chief executive of Virgin Money, stated that maintaining beliefs was an important part of being an international business.
Gadhia said: “I always wrestle with this because I understand that as businesspeople, our priority is to our shareholders and our business – but if one holds one’s beliefs truly, you have to stand up for them wherever you are.
“I feel very proud to be part of a business that has got a purpose, it’s not just about the bottom line. You have to stand up for what you believe in wherever you are.”
Western leaders have been reluctant to challenge Saudi Arabia over alleged human rights abuses in the past.
Donald Trump, who repeatedly used LGBT rights in Saudi Arabia to attack Hillary Clinton, failed to actually bring up LGBT rights during his Presidential trip to Saudi Arabia earlier this year.
When later asked about BAE’s work with Saudi Arabia and advocating for human rights, Sir Roger Carr responded: “Standing up to be counted for what you believe in is something I have done all my life, it’s what we do as a business and I’m an absolute believer in that.
“I think you’ve got to decide where you stand and how you influence most effectively. Sometimes you influence by behaviour much more than being an irritating critic to a regime that doesn’t want to hear it.
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“But it will listen and it will watch and it will see improvement by very positive behaviour. That’s the kind of advocacy I believe in, and I’ve always stood up for what I believe in, wherever I’ve been, anywhere in the world.”
Carr then stated that BAE has worked to improve gender and LGBT diversity in employment in recent years.
Carr said: “It is not about PR, if it’s about PR people quickly see the lack of authenticity.
“I think you lead believing the case you’re making, using the platform you have, still needing to persuade, still making the arguments, and still doing the analytical work before you start the message as to the nature of the audience.
“Most importantly, it is to be a consistent advocate of something that is good for business, appropriate for human beings, and recognises that diversity is a healthy thing to have in a business, not a strange thing to have.”
Queer activist groups have previously criticised groups such as London Pride for featuring flyovers from military groups and the Red Arrows in part due to their links with BAE Systems.