Little do many Nottingham students or residents know, but there is an unmarked unit on an industrial estate not far from University Park campus where the world’s second-largest small arms manufacturer has a global sales headquarters for many non EU-countries. That company is called Heckler and Koch.
Heckler & Koch entered the business register in 1949 and since 1958 – when prohibition of the Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifle was lifted – has grown and grown into the huge company it is today. In a 2002 small arms survey it was found that Heckler & Koch weapons are in use in at least 90 countries and their biggest selling gun, the G3 assault rifle, of which 7 million have been sold, is in use in over 60 countries. Heckler & Koch’s total military sales in 2001 amounted to 130 million euros – all made with fewer than 700 employees.
Clearly this is a successful business, but the source of its success is rooted in endless misery. A recent and high-profile example of this was this summer, when breakaway forces in South Ossetia used Heckler & Koch G36 rifles – even though the German government never authorised the sales as Georgia was a conflict zone. It would seem that these rifles were sold illegally. The American mercenary group, Blackwater, which is reported to have slaughtered no less than 25 civilians in Iraq, are armed with Heckler and Koch weapons. In Darfur, crimes against humanity have been committed by the Janjaweed Militia using G3 assault rifles in a war that has left 400,000 dead since 2003. This list is by no means exhaustive but the point is evident. Wherever there are arms manufacturers and guns in demand, there will be bending and breaking of laws that will result in profit for one powerful party, and death and misery for the poorer majority.
The arms trade works as any business does, with one sole aim: to make profit. It is interesting to note how arms companies never have allegiance to any particular country or ideal except to that of making money. Many will argue that this is often a side-effect of business and capitalism, and that if one company did not sell these arms then someone else would. This merely legitimises the trade in their eyes, and seems to pass the blame onto the system rather than any individual.
Before we take such a one-dimensional view it might be prudent to analyse how the guns are traded. In the UK the government has certain restrictions on which countries guns can be sold to. This is supposed to be in place to stop what we perceive as brutal regimes getting their hands on weapons and using them for genocide and ethnic cleansing. However, this is often circumvented by selling weapons to countries which have no such restrictions on the same regimes, which can then sell those weapons on. This was exemplified by Heckler & Koch when 500 H&K MP5 sub machine guns were sold to MKEK in Turkey, only to then be sold on to the Indonesian armed forces in 1999 – when the East Timor massacres were still ongoing.
This story is not all doom and gloom, however. There is a movement that is rising in Nottingham which is called ‘Shut Down H&K’. This is a group who are unified in bringing attention to the issues of the small arms trade, as well as raising awareness of Heckler & Koch’s presence with the main aim of shutting down its Nottingham headquarters. The reason this issue has gone by unnoticed for so long in a city such as Nottingham (well-known for its gun problem) is that Heckler & Koch have kept a very low profile. Their hopes to go unnoticed were crushed about a year and a half ago when five local people found out about the company’s presence and decided to pay them a visit. They were swiftly escorted away from the industrial estate by an armed Police response unit! This did not put the group off however and it was from this incident that the campaign began to grow.
At the Easter Park industrial estate, where the headquarters are based (closer to campus than Lenton!) all the units are labelled except Heckler & Koch at Unit 3, where their sign simply says ‘LET’. When Nottingham residents tried to raise the issue to local and national media, the media allegedly received a phone call from Nottingham police telling them that publishing the story was not in “the public’s interest”. Heckler & Koch refuse to confirm or deny whether there is Heckler & Koch merchandise (i.e. weapons) stored at the industrial estate, and I would hasten to add that this question is definitely in the public’s interest given this city’s record of gun crime.
It seems that these are issues which are in all our interests; as the Lord Mayor of Nottingham said in 2004, “Guns have no place at all in our community – not in Nottingham, not in my city, nor any other city in Britain”. Although Nottingham students feel they have nothing to do with the arms trade and that it is not our problem, it would seem that we have the opportunity to make a huge difference in supporting this campaign and standing up for those who cannot get their voices heard around the globe and who suffer at the hands of this business.
There are monthly demonstrations outside Heckler & Koch every 2nd Monday of the month. There are also plans for a demonstration in the city centre in coming months.
For more information visit the ‘Shut Down H&K’ website at: