Balfour Beatty Dammed in London
Balfour Beatty's AGM on the 2nd May 2001 was to be attended by the usual crowd: the Board, shareholders and about 100 people from campaigns around the country opposed to practices employed by this company.
Karen Leach and I were representing the campaign against the BNRR, (as its construction consortium includes Balfour Beatty), but we are both equally, if not more, opposed to the central reason for this mass onslaught against BB, the proposed Ilisu Dam in Turkey. The dam, if built, will make 78,000 Kurdish people homeless, create massive environmental, cultural and archaeological damage and affect the water supply to surrounding countries with the security risks this brings.
The World Commission on Dams has released a set of 26 guidelines for the building of new dams. Friends of the Earth had put forward a resolution for Balfour Beatty to adopt these guidelines, which would effectively force Balfour Beatty to pull out of the construction. Resolution 15 (on the dam) had been scheduled for the end of the meeting.
It was made clear by the Chair that this resolution would be debated at the end of the meeting and no questions would be taken regarding the Ilisu Dam before this time. This is where the BNRR campaign and others including concerns about the Hatfield crash, deaths of Balfour Beatty workers on construction sites, the proposed privatisation of the London Underground, came in. We would make sure that a pretty grim (and accurately so) picture was built up about this company's practices by asking questions about their dubious operations.
The table of leaflets inside the AGM regarding their ethical, environmental and safety policies made for amusing reading, when considering the many examples of Balfour Beatty's questionable business practices. It was also made clear that no disruptive behaviour (a list was supplied) would be tolerated from "protesting" shareholders, in the light of last year's AGM, which was closed down. It was imperative for the Ilisu Dam Campaign that the meeting was not closed down before resolution 15 was debated and voted on.
We were all on our best behaviour while being searched on entry to the meeting, but it seemed that the same standards were not expected from other shareholders, as Karen found out when politely handing out BNRR leaflets. One suit in particular seemed to take personal offence as he screwed up the leaflet and threw it in her face (as aggressively as a piece of paper can be thrown!)
Karen did manage to ask a question to the Board, highlighting the fact that CAMBBA's bid for the road was a3200 million less than the original contractor's bid. Would this be another chance for BB to cut corners on environmental and safety standards to save money, as they appeared to have done on the scant Foot and Mouth precautions to be seen - or not - along the route of the road? Lord Weir declared himself "offended" by this question, but didn't satisfactorily answer it. Given the contract price, two outcomes are possible in the light of such unexpected events as FMD, archaeological discoveries and extreme weather: eit her contractors will cut corners, or there will be an increase in costs or time.
Lord Weir decided it was safest to admit that relevant extra costs would be met by BB, and that unexpected events had already affected the schedule - neither of which pieces of news can have been pleasing to listening shareholders.
In fact the Board were defensive throughout, especially when it was brought their attention that the temporary Kurdish ceasefire in the volatile region of the proposed Dam could not be guaranteed if they were to begin construction. The Chair took this as a threat, whereas it sounded much more like an observation - and an issue that they should consider. We were also reminded several times that there is, as yet, no confirmed contract for the Dam. Hopefully, they will keep it that way.
Voting figures on Resolution 15 were:
The original level of support for the resolution was four times higher than the final count. Three institutional investors changed their vote from "for" to "against" after they were contacted by Balfour Beatty. There is widespread suspicion that the company coerced these investors into changing their minds. However the final result still shows a highly significant level of support for the resolution.
The Ilisu Dam campaign can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org