Exposing BP’s cynical sponsorship of the ‘Oilympcis’ – and helping to bring BP to account for their investment in the Canadian tar sands project.
BP is the last major oil company to start exploiting the Canadian tar sands – the most destructive industrial project on the planet. The production of oil from tar sands is much more polluting than conventional oil production: the tar sands have been described as “the gulf spill…playing out in slow motion”, with over 11 million barrels of toxic waste per day seeping into one of Canada’s most important freshwater supplies.
Tar sands also have devastating effects on the local environment, nearby communities, and global climate. Although BP announced it was moving ahead with its massive ‘Sunrise Project’ in Northern Alberta last December, the oil will not flow until at least 2014 – so there is still time to stop it. Stopping BP’s tar sands project would do more than protect the area at risk; it would send massive shockwaves through the oil and financial industries and give a strong message to the Canadian and Albertan governments that companies are not prepared to take the risks associated with such reckless developments.
Richard Howlett from the Reclaim Shakespeare Company about to take the stage to denounce BP’s sponsorship of the arts
This project aimed to intensify the pressure on BP, following its decision – in the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon, one of the world’s worst oil spills – to become the last major oil company to go into the tar sands. This is a disastrous decision for local ecosystems, communities and the global climate. It is not too late for BP to be forced to pull out, and to be persuaded not to develop its other dormant leases.
Our aim is to make tar sands as toxic for BP as they are for the planet. So we have been working to confront and shame BP in the very places where it is attempting to salvage its sullied image and distract attention from its dodgy activities:
Attending the BP AGM.
This April, BP was planning on telling a particular story around its AGM. That the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster was behind it, lessons had been learnt, and the company was bouncing back. We weren’t going to let that happen. So we brought a First Nations representative from Canada and two Gulf Coast residents to London. We held a press conference outside the AGM, just before it was due to start, whilst giving leaflets to shareholders as they arrived, outlining the extreme financial risks BP was taking by investing their money in such dangerous projects. Inside, we combined powerful, eloquent and targeted questioning of the board by community representatives with some cheeky direct action that culminated in a ‘die-in’ by a group of activists who were carried out.
These activities – and our behind-the-scenes work researching, writing and communicating the issues, drafting the questions and courting journalists – resulted in blanket mainstream and social media coverage the following day. We were in the Financial Times and every other major national UK newspaper (even the Sun!), as well as the Wall Street Journal and a lot of US media due to the Gulf Coast angle. We dominated the coverage with the twin messages that BP hasn’t cleaned up the Gulf – despite what it claims – and is heading into another, perhaps even more risky and dangerous project with its entry into the tar sands.
Challenging BP’s Olympics 2012 sponsorship.
BP is ‘Sustainability Partner’ of the London 2012 Olympics. Say what?!! So we capitalized on the high profile of the Olympics and the prominence BP is giving to its sponsorship, to point out the discrepancy between London 2012’s claims to be the ‘greenest games ever’, and the destructive track record and devastating future plans of its ‘Sustainability Partner’.
In February, our opening salvo was a letter to the London Olympic organisers, the International Olympic Committee, and the Commission for a Sustainable London (CSL), signed by 34 prominent signatories (including Kenny Young!), representing environmentalists, artists, indigenous peoples and development groups. See the Guardian article about it
This led to a meeting with the CSL – London 2012’s independent sustainability watchdog – while the community representatives were over for the BP AGM. CSL subsequently published an annual review which identified as a problem ‘wider stakeholder concerns about the corporate behaviour of commercial partners. The innovative sponsorship opportunity for “sustainability partners” has not been wholly successful and we would recommend that similar initiatives are much more explicit in their commitments, so the partner “earns” the right rather than just paying for it.’
On April 16 we teamed up with several other groups to launch the Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign to vote for the worst Olympic sponsor – which gained a lot of media coverage
Then, on April 23rd, we launched the ‘Reclaim Shakespeare Company’ – a creative response to BP’s sponsorship of the World Shakespeare Festival and a trio of plays at the Royal Shakespeare Company, as part of its support for the ‘Cultural Olympiad’. This involved leaping on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon just before a BP-sponsored RSC performance and delivering a short soliloquy, asking ‘BP or not BP’? Click here to watch the film of it.
We also co-ordinated a letter criticising BP sponsorship of Shakespeare, from prominent figures in the theatre world including Mark Rylance and Caryl Churchill, which was published in the Guardian on the same day.
All this Olympics sponsorship work has subsequently continued and intensified, but it was APE’s grant that allowed us to get it off the ground!