LONDON - The chief executive of Britain’s leading arms manufacturer has been accused of “directly profiting from the horrendous war crimes Israel is committing against Palestinian people”, as it is revealed he received close to an extra £1 million in a share sale following the 7 October. BAE Systems supplies the Israeli Air Force with weapons systems for their fleet of F-15, F-16 and F-35 fighter jets.

On 9 March, BAE Systems CEO, Charles Woodburn, sold 331,716 personal shares of stock in the company, netting him £4,163,035. An equivalent sale of those shares on 6 October would have earned Woodburn £3,252,807. BAE’s share price has risen some 39% since 6 October 2023.

The company’s 2023 report shows record sales of £25.3 billion. Woodburn cited “rising instability across Europe, the Middle East and other parts of the world” for global increases in defence spending. The BAE Systems boss has personally benefited enormously from such profits. The company awarded him some £13.45m in 2023, a rise of some 112% from his total remuneration award of £6.34m in 2021.

The news comes just days after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited a BAE Systems facility in Barrow-in-Furness on Monday to announce a £200m package of investment aimed at the UK’s nuclear industry as part of a partnership between the government BAE Systems and other arms manufacturers. Woodburn praised the government’s announcement, saying, “the long-term vision set out in the command paper is hugely welcome and will support the necessary infrastructure development and recruitment required for the delivery of these important national security programmes.”

Despite the British government’s ongoing support for UK arms manufacturers such as BAE Systems and its continued provision of arms to Israel during its assault on Gaza, calls for an arms embargo on Israel are gaining further momentum amidst increasing legal and political pressure.

In February, a Dutch court ruled that there is “a clear risk that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law.” The court ordered the Netherlands government to block the export of all F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.

This month, the Canadian government announced it will halt all arms shipments to Israel, noting it cannot be fully assured that Israel is complying with Canada’s export regime.

Earlier this month, hundreds of parliamentarians from Israel’s major arms exporters, called for an arms embargo in an open letter coordinated by the Progressive International.

On Wednesday, 134 UK Parliamentarians called on the UK government to suspend arms exports to Israel, in a move coordinated by Labour MP Zarah Sultana.

The UK arms industry has come under repeated scrutiny in recent years, including legal challenges to the UK government presented by Oxfam and Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) to the High Court demanding a cease of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which had amounted to £25 billion since the conflict began in 2015.

UK arms embargoes to Israel are not new. Both the Thatcher and Major governments implemented embargoes. In 2011 and 2012, when Foreign Secretary David Cameron was Prime Minister, the UK government refused to export components to Israel due to concerns over Israel’s “respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.”

Responding to the revelations of Mr Woodburn’s share bonuses, Emily Appe, CAAT's Media Coordinator said: "Woodburn is directly profiting from the horrendous war crimes Israel is committing against Palestinian people. These obscene profits show exactly what is wrong with the arms trade. War, death and destruction are all good business for arms dealers. They have no interest in peaceful solutions because it is instability and conflict that drive up share prices and allow them to make even more money selling yet more weapons to fuel conflict around the world."

A BAE Systems spokesperson said: “Charles recently exercised a long-term incentive award that vested at the end of last year. He only sold the number of shares required to fund his tax and insurance liability on exercise.”

Iain Overton, Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, said of the share profits: “While vast profits are being amassed by arms manufacturers, the human cost of conflict continues to mount. The juxtaposition of surging share prices and spiralling civilian casualties cannot be ignored. This is not just a matter of ledger sheets and shareholder returns; it's about the ethical implications of profit derived from strife. The international community must prioritise human life over financial gain and rigorously question where and how arms are used.'"