for Sunday Herald, 23 February 2014
The UK government has rejected a formal complaint against the British communications giant, BT, alleging that its technology was aiding lethal US drone strikes on Yemen and Somalia.
The human rights group, Reprieve, had complained that a $23 million contract between BT and the US government’s Defense Information Systems Agency had helped connect a US drone base in the East African republic of Djibouti to RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire, which serves as a major US communications base.
The group claimed that this breached guidelines on responsible business behaviour drawn up by the 34-country Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) because it enabled the drone strikes, which have been blamed for killing hundreds of people since 2002.
But the UK government has now rejected the complaint “on the grounds that the allegations are not material and substantiated in regard to the company’s obligations under the guidelines.” The decision was welcomed by BT, which said it had provided a “general purpose fibre-optic system” and had “no knowledge of US drone strikes and no involvement in any such activity.”
Reprieve, however, was “very disappointed” at the outcome and blamed “serious flaws in the complaint system”. The government “appeared to have largely accept BT’s claims at face value, and did not carry out any meaningful investigation of their own,” said legal director, Kat Craig.
She also pointed out that the overseeing trade minister, Ian Livingston, had previously been BT’s chief executive. “There is legitimate cause for concern over potential conflicts of interest,” she said.