The 2016 Honeywell shareholder’s meeting was held on a bright, sunny morning in a large auditorium in the firm’s new global headquarters, housed in a stark glass and steel structure on a 40-acre plot in Morris Plains, New Jersey. The building opened in November 2015 with the help of a $40 million gift from New Jersey taxpayers, courtesy of Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey legislature.
At 10:30 am, on April 25, 2016, Honeywell Chairman and CEO David E. Cote appeared at the podium, flanked on his left by Kate Adams, Honeywell’s chief legal counsel, and on his right by Tom Szlosek, the firm’s chief financial officer. Cote’s total compensation in 2014 was listed in the 2015 Honeywell proxy statement as $33 million. He has headed Honeywell since 2002; he has a friendly relationship with President Obama; and his demeanor was one of total self-assurance, something that is almost certainly connected with Honeywell’s stock price that day of $114 a share, down slightly from $115.80, its highest point since he was hired.
About 50 people were present, including what appeared to be the entire board of directors sitting dutifully in the front row. The annual compensation for Honeywell board members in fiscal year 2015 ranged from $280,103 to $373,561, according to the 2016 proxy statement.
Mr. Cote and the board were undoubtedly buoyed by the awareness that they were representing a company with net sales of $38.6 billion in 2015, 129,000 employees (49,000 in the US) and that it is the 16th largest US military contractor.
MilitaryIndustrialComplex.com reports that Honeywell has received $9.06 billion in military contracts in the last decade. Honeywell also has taken in billions in government contracts for the above-mentioned making of non-nuclear parts for nuclear weapons and the management of nuclear weapons facilities.
A Shareholder Disrupts the Meeting
When it came time for shareholders to speak, Rev. Chris Antal — a Unitarian minister whose congregation had bought him a share of stock to enable him to attend Honeywell’s shareholder meetings and speak against drone war — went to a microphone located at the end of the row seating the board of directors and read this statement:
My name is Chris Antal. I am a clergyman in the Unitarian Universalist Association and a member of Veterans for Peace.
My questions concern Honeywell’s nuclear weapons contracts with the US government.
Nuclear weapons pose an existential threat to humanity. We will be free of this threat only when we eliminate them, not modernize them and not miniaturize them, but totally eliminate them. At the Nuclear Security Summit earlier this month, President Obama warned we might be “ramping up new and more deadly and more effective systems that end up leading to a whole new escalation of the arms race.” Honeywell contributes to and profits from these systems.
I have four questions.
First, I want to know: What percent of the $1 trillion modernization program to replace America’s nuclear weapons will be paid to Honeywell?
Second, I want to know: How much money is the US government paying to Honeywell to develop the new advanced air-launched nuclear cruise missile?
Third, I want to know: How much money has Honeywell invested into the political lobbying for all the above?
Finally, I want to know: Have you, Mr. Cote, been to Hiroshima, and if not, when you will go? John Kerry went this month. He said: “Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and everyone means everyone.” I have been there twice.
As a clergyman concerned for your eternal soul, I urge you to visit Hiroshima, confront the horror unleashed by the technology Honeywell helps produce and find the moral courage to terminate all existing contracts and refuse all future contracts involving nuclear weapons.
When Antal completed his statement, Cote said only: “With respect to the first three questions: I don’t have the answer.” He said the fourth question is “not of concern to shareholders.”
It might be that this was the first time the word “soul” was uttered in a Honeywell shareholders meeting. Clearly, Cote wanted that word to have absolutely nothing to do with making an appraisal of Honeywell’s activities.
When Antal sat down, I went to the microphone and said:
My name is Nicholas Mottern. I am coordinator of the website and center for action Knowdrones.com, and I am a member of Veterans for Peace.
At least 6,500 people have been killed by US drones since these attacks began in 2001. All were killed without due process. All were killed in violation of international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Former Congressman Rush Holt, to whom Honeywell gave campaign contributions while he was in Congress, last year said drone killing is simply assassination. While he was in Congress, he and other members of Congress tried to get President Obama to provide information on drone war, but got no answer.
In the last few months, at least seven former drone operators have called for a halt to drone strikes, and four wrote a letter to President Obama, saying that drone killing causes people to want to kill Americans.
In 2014, I came to the Honeywell shareholders meeting, urging that Honeywell stop providing the engines, navigational and targeting systems for the MQ-9 Reaper drone, the workhorse of US drone killing. I came again last year with the same request, and I asked you, Mr. Cote, how much money Honeywell is making from supplying components for the Reaper drone. You said you did not know, but that perhaps you would supply the information, and your head of security said he would try to find out. So far I have heard nothing.
I would like to ask again if you know how much money Honeywell takes in for the components it supplies for the Reaper drone.
Cote replied, “I don’t know.”
I then asked, “I want to ask also whether you have brought my concerns about drone warfare to Honeywell’s board of directors?
Cote replied, “We have decided we will support the policies of our government.”
I then asked Cote how much Honeywell has spent in lobbying for continuing the drone program and for policy supporting the drone war program. Again, he simply replied, “I don’t know.”
And when I pressed Cote on whether he feels that Honeywell is “in any way legally liable for enabling war crimes being conducted under the US drone program,” he replied simply, “We are going to support the US government. We believe it is right to do so.”
At this point Kate Adams, Honeywell’s legal counsel, told me that my time was up, and as I persisted, Cote gave a little chuckle. I responded, saying the subject was not funny, and asked whether he had raised with the board of directors the concern that Honeywell might be liable for enabling war crimes because of its work in the drone program.
He responded: “We feel it is important to support our government, and we do,” and with that, the session of corporate and emotional stonewalling came to a close.
After the meeting, Antal was approached by a shareholder — a man in his late 70s who had quit working for Honeywell some years ago, without having another job to go to — because his conscience would not permit him to work on nuclear weapons. This encounter, along with the stonewalling we encountered from Cote, made us reflect on how protests at corporate headquarters, shareholder motions, boycotts and divestment are not sufficient to stop the accelerating spread of war and nuclear weapons. Anti-war activists must also make a concerted effort to speak soul-to-soul with the masses of workers within the arms industry.
What Do Honeywell Employees Need to Know?
Honeywell workers in the US may not be aware that the 2015 annual report proudly asserts that, in spite of Cote’s espoused support of the US government, Honeywell is going to be spending a great deal of its money outside the US and that it is determined to avoid paying as much taxes in the US as possible. This means, of course, fewer jobs in the US and more of the tax burden shifted to Honeywell employees, as well as other workers in the US and abroad, particularly in poorer countries. The 2015 Honeywell annual report says:
At December 31, 2015, a substantial portion of the Company’s cash and cash equivalents were held by foreign subsidiaries. If the amounts held outside of the US were to be repatriated, under current law, they would be subject to US federal income taxes, less applicable foreign tax credits. However, our intent is to permanently reinvest the vast majority of these funds outside of the US (emphasis mine). It is not practicable to estimate the amount of tax that might be payable if some or all of such earnings were to be repatriated, and the amount of foreign tax credits that would be available to reduce or eliminate the resulting US tax liability.
“Broken at the Top,” an April 2016 report by Oxfam America, suggests that the “substantial portion” of Honeywell’s offshore cash between 2008 and 2014 amounted to $15 billion, and that its effective tax rate during that period was 26.6 percent, compared to the statutory rate of 35 percent. During this period, Honeywell received $50.3 billion in federal loans, bailouts and loan guarantees, according to the report, and spent $44 million on lobbying.
Honeywell is not alone in this, says the Oxfam report:
Tax dodging by multinational corporations costs the US approximately $111 billion each year. But these schemes do not just harm the US. The same tactics corporations use to dodge US tax sap an estimated $100 billion every year from poor countries, preventing crucial investments in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other forms of poverty reduction. The harm done to Americans and people living in poor countries by corporate tax dodging are two sides of the same coin.
What this means is that Honeywell is taking advantage of lower paid workers in poorer countries, pitting them against its US workers. The “muscle” backing up Honeywell’s overseas dealings is provided by the US military.
It is a message that we must bear when we reach out to people inside the arms industry, seeking the kind of dialogue that Paolo Freire described in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed as “a horizontal relationship of which mutual trust between the dialoguers is the logical consequence.”
This is the challenge before us.