War profiteer of the month: Rheinmetall

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An orange banner at the top reads "War Starts Here". Another banner lies on the floor. Between them is a line of people sat with their backs to the camera, blocking a road.
Activists take part in a blockade at a Rheinmetall factory. Source: Twitter

The "Rheinmetall Group" logo

Rheinmetall is a German defence and automotive company founded in 1889, and is Germany's biggest arms manufacturer. In the 2017 fiscal year, Rheinmetall's defence sales were €3.036 billion (the automotive segment were €2.861 billion), and the company employs a total of 23,726 people. Rheinmetall is headquartered in Dusseldorf, and builds a range of different weapons, including vehicles, autocannons (a rapid-firing, automatic weapon firing armour piecing explosive shells), anti-tank systems, artillery, mortars, and ammunition. In 2016, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), listed Rheinmetall as the world's 26th biggest arms company, rising from 30th in 2015.

Rheinmetall is made up of a large number of subsidiary companies around the world, including South Africa, Singapore, Canada, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the United States of America, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Rheinmetall have sold to countries all over the world, and the companies website regularly boasts of international orders of weapons. Since September 2017, the company has announced:

  • an order from an “Asian customer” for a Skyshield air defence system worth over €100 million,

  • Australian ordering 211 “Boxcar” armoured vehicles worth €2.1 billion, and 1000 logistical trucks,

  • a €12 million order from Canada to extend the navies MASS countermeasure systems,

  • an order from an “international customer” for €380 million worth of artillery and tank ammunition,

  • winning an EU contract for preliminary studies for the “Generic Open Soldier Systems Reference Architecture”, or GOSSRA, system,

  • two artillery orders worth €5.8 million from the US military and navy.

  • A contract to upgrade 104 Leopard tanks for the German military.

Arms to Turkey

The company supplied some of the Leopard tanks used in Turkey's offensive in Afrin in mid-2018, with footage apparently showing them being used against Kurdish forces. At the time the company was due to upgrade the armour on Turkey's tanks, making them less vulnerable to rockets and booby traps. Some German politicians said the Turkish incursion was illegal, and demanded the upgrade be halted.

Tear gas

Rheinmetall owns 51% of the South African arms company Denel. Bahraini activists collected evidence that Denel's tear gas weapons were used by the Bahraini government in violent responses to pro-democracy protesters in 2014. The company denied ever offering or supplying Bahrain with teargas, but a follow-up request from journalists as to whether there were ever exports to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates – countries that provided military support to crush pro-democracy protests – received no response.

Resistance

The company has faced repeated protests and campaigns.

  • At the companies 2017 annual general meeting, activists parked a (decommissioned) Leopard tank outside the hotel, in protest at the companies plans to build a tank factory in Turkey.

  • In September 2017, German artists wrote an open letter objecting to Rheinmetall sponsoring an exhibition of German contemporary art in Beijing.

  • In May 2018, a large protest was held at the companies AGM, in solidarity with the people of Afrin and demanding the company stops arming the Turkish government,

  • In September 2018, a peace camp culminated in a blockade and street protest outside the companies factory in Unterluss. Read our article on the protest here.

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