Crown Agents - a Special Report
(from leaflet prepared for Mayday 2003)
THERE is more than one kind of looter operating in Iraq at the moment.
We've all heard about desperate, impoverished masses grabbing whatever they can for themselves and their families under cover of the chaos and destruction caused by the illegal US/UK invasion. But you won't have heard so much about a very well established and well connected British organisation which is basically helping big greedy multinational companies to cash in on the riches of a country that has now been forcibly 'opened up' to western business interests. The firm is called Crown Agents and its London office is at 150 Buckingham Palace Road, Victoria. It also has a big office in Sutton and an International Management Training Centre in Worthing.
Crown Agents' usually low profile has been raised over the last month or two by its role in the take-over of Iraq. A report on the BBC website on March 11 , before the war was launched, commented: "A fairly narrow coterie of international firms has developed a reliable sideline in post-war clean-ups. Construction firms such as the US's Fluor and Bechtel, Britain's Costain and Balfour Beatty, and France's Spie are usually the first in; service providers such as British Crown Agents and Swiss SGS are rarely far behind. Sometimes, this results in a sordid scramble or stitch-up."
This prediction of Crown Agents' involvement quickly proved spot-on. The Independent reported on March 31 : "Crown Agents, a privatised development assistance firm, has become the first British company to win a contract in the American programme to rebuild Iraq. It will be a subcontractor to International Resources Group (IRG), a US professional services firm providing technical assistance for planning and management of the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities in Iraq."
So what exactly does Crown Agents do? If you want a straight answer, ironically the one place not to look is the firm's own website, www.crownagents.com, which projects a predictably rose-tinted view of the organisation and its role in the world. It claims: "We help countries and public sector entities and businesses within those countries, to grow. We do this by working in partnership with our clients to confer the skills, ideas and material resources each needs at every stage of their development."
But you can begin to understand what all this 'help' and 'development' might really all be about by glancing at the history section on the Crown Agents site. This reveals that its beginnings were in oiling the cogs of the British empire in the 19th century: "Crown Agents originated in 1833, when the Joint Agents General for Crown Colonies were appointed by H.M. Government. The Agents' remit was to reduce costs and increase efficiency in the procurement of goods and services to the Crown Colonies."
Exactly 170 years later, Crown Agents is still busy facilitating imperialism, though these days the global greed machine prefers the Stars and Stripes to the Union Jack as its flag of convenience. Privatised in March 1997, Crown Agents lurks in that murky area between state and business that has become so central in the new age of corporate government. Its board boasts some notable links to the world of big business and banking - and these are just the ones actually declared on its own website! Chairman Peter Berry is "a director of listed investment trusts and Kier Group plc". Deputy chairman Francis Summer is "a non-executive director of the Bankers Investment Trust plc". Chief executive Jack Garvey has enjoyed a career with Unilever, Proctor and Gamble and Pepsico.
Its holding entity is The Crown Agents Foundation, whose membership includes token 'worthy' organisations such as Christian Aid and British Overseas NGOs for Development. But the vast majority of names of both permanent and elected members hail, once again, from the world of business. There is the International Chamber of Commerce, for instance, and the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum, not to mention Barclays Bank, British Telecommunications plc, Securicor plc, the Securities Institute, Standard Chartered Bank, Tate and Lyle plc and Unilever plc, for whom Crown Agents chief exec Mr Garvey put in such good work over the years.
The British Government is also still very much involved with Crown Agents and is a Special Member of the Foundation. Indeed, it is important to remember that without governments to help them on their way, the sharks of multinational business would not be able to operate.
Big companies can't wage wars to take over 'new markets' across the world. They need governments to do that for them. Big companies can't tax the population to pay for the wars or the 'rebuilding'. They need governments to do that, too.
That's why it's so vital to these interests that political parties like New Labour are 'business friendly'. Together, these partners in crime form a double act of con merchants ripping off the rest of us in the most lucrative scam you could imagine. Every year, more and more of our tax money is redirected by our corrupt central government straight into the pockets of the big business fat cats.
We have been victims of this in the UK for years, with the constant privatisation of services that used to be under public ownership. Now it's the Iraqi people's turn to enjoy the wonderful world of business 'democracy', as author Naomi Klein explained in The Guardian on April 14 . She wrote: "Rather than rebuilding, the country is being treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neo-liberals can design their dream economy: fully privatised, foreign-owned and open for business... What is being planned is not reparations, reconstruction or rehabilitation. It is robbery: mass theft disguised as charity; privatisation without representation."
There may still be some readers out there who think the war on Iraq was fought because of breaches of UN resolutions or the weapons of mass destruction that were strangely never used..
But the Crown Agents' involvement in Iraq, and the way it is linking government with big business in a greedy scramble to strip Iraq bare, is yet another factor pointing towards an entirely different agenda behind the whole sordid, bloody affair...