Business

BP annual meeting sparks angry protests

  • 14 April 2011
  • From the section Business

BP faced angry demonstrators at its first annual general meeting since the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Fishermen from the US joined UK trade unionists and environmentalists for almost four hours of protests at the AGM in London.

There were scuffles outside the hall when some activists were refused entry, and proceedings inside were momentarily halted to evict a group of people.

It is understood that one woman was arrested for a breach of the peace.

Inside the ExCel centre in east London the BP board faced a barrage of hostile questions about its "green" credentials, pay, and ill-starred bid to do a deal with Russia's Rosneft.

Lost trust

But it was last year's fatal explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig, which unleashed a huge oil spill, that sparked the most vocal protests.

During his speech, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg acknowledged the impact that the disaster had wrought on Gulf communities and also the energy giant itself.

Life had "not been easy" for BP during the past 12 months and the company had to "work hard to earn back trust", he said.

As a mark of respect Mr Svanberg read out the names of the 11 rig workers who died in the explosion, and repeated his promise that BP would pay to clean up the Gulf coast.

Before the meeting, scuffles broke out when representatives of Gulf communities were refused entry, with BP saying they were judged to be a threat to other shareholders.

"I've come all the way here from the Gulf Coast," said Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fish company owner from Seadrift, Texas. "My community is gone, and they won't let me in."

Inside the auditorium, BBC business reporter Rob Young said some protesters attempted to storm the stage and one was physically carried out.

Mr Svanberg described it as a "disturbance" at the back of the hall. He admitted that some people had "strong emotions".

Troubled deal

Many shareholders, especially BP's large institutional investors, were looking to the meeting for progress on the company's proposed £10bn share-swap deal with Rosneft.

Late on Wednesday, BP extended by a month the deadline to complete the Rosneft share-swap hours before its expiry.

The planned deal has been on hold after AAR, which partners BP in their TNK-BP joint venture, claimed the Rosneft proposal breached a pre-existing shareholder agreement.

AAR has got a court injunction against the Rosneft deal, which BP chief executive Bob Dudley had hailed as a vital part of his company's growth strategy through exploration in the Arctic.

He told the meeting that BP and Rosneft offered to buy out the Russian partners in TNK-BP.

"We have offered them participation in the Arctic. We have offered cash, we have offered participation to TNK-BP in international ventures and we have even jointly offered, with Rosneft, a fair offer for their company," Mr Dudley said.

But he added: "We are not going to offer large amounts or significant shareholdings in BP."

AAR, however, hit back and said it was not interested in the "selective parts" of the deal it had been offered.

"BP has never made a constructive proposal to turn the Rosneft deal over to TNK-BP as our shareholder agreement requires," said chief executive Stan Polovets.

He added that TNK-BP had been an "exceptional investment" for BP.

"BP is putting at risk dividends of around $3.3bn this year that the company badly needs as well as the long-term value of a great business," he said.

Pay protest

BP shareholders also put pressure on the company's board with a sizeable protest vote over the pay deals handed to the company's top executives.

Mr Svanberg revealed that just over 11% of votes cast by shareholders not present at the meeting were against the remuneration report. Votes from those at the meeting had still to be counted.

Axel Kohler-Schnura of Germany was one of the shareholders refused entry
Campaigner Axel Kohler-Schnura of Germany was another shareholder refused entry

Some 25% of shareholder votes also opposed the re-election of Sir William Castell, the senior independent director and chairman of BP's safety and governance committee.

Last year the vote against him was less than 1%.

It is thought that Calpers, a large US-based pension fund, and the Florida State Board of Administration, were among shareholders voting against Sir William's re-appointment.

Before the meeting Bill Seddon, chairman of the Church Investment Group and chief executive of the Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church, told the BBC that his organisation would vote against Sir William's re-election.

"Church investors around the world are looking to give a signal to BP... This [Gulf spill] happened on his watch and somebody has to take responsibility for it."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites