Business

BP annual meeting sparks angry protests

  • 14 April 2011
  • From the section Business

Dozens of angry protesters greeted the owners of BP at its annual shareholders' gathering in London.

They were waving brightly coloured banners with messages such as "global climate crime" and "BP: your party is over".

But the protesters were just getting started.

They were shouting, but you couldn't really hear what they were saying over the various loud musicians who were also there.

A brass band was playing in protest at something. The giveaway was probably the Mexican costumes. But some shareholders seemed to be enjoying the music.

The demonstrations were against various things - the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a tar sands project in Canada, executive pay.

'Shame'

Several protesters had travelled to the meeting from the US.

Their lives, businesses and communities had been affected by last year's massive oil spill. But they weren't allowed into the hall, despite having paperwork which said they could go in.

Diane Wilson covered her hands in syrup
US shrimp farmer and campaigner Diane Wilson was one of the protesters refused entry

That led to quite a scene. The Gulf fishermen shouted louder and louder, a police officer shouted back, journalists surrounded them, and even the band stopped playing for a moment.

"Shame on BP!" chanted one man before the brass band played started again.

A woman from the Gulf coast, Diane Wilson, covered herself in "oil". Apparently it was only syrup, but it didn't look pleasant.

The Louisiana fishermen say BP offered to meet some of them afterwards, but the chit-chat didn't happen after the fishermen asked for the media to attend.

In the hall itself, the protesters weren't yet done.

Deaths list

At the beginning of the event, BP's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg appealed to people to "ask a question, not make a speech".

Most ignored him.

A Gulf Coast author, Antonia Juhasz, tried to read out a statement from Keith Jones, the father of Gordon Jones, one of the 11 people who died in last year's explosion.

BP's chairman tried to interrupt her, but then relented.

"You were rolling the dice with my son's life and you lost,'' she said, her voice cracking.

There was some applause after she finished speaking.

Chief executive Bob Dudley read out the names of the 11 workers who died in the Gulf explosion. The room listened in silence.

He said he was from the Gulf coast and the explosion "devastated" him.

There were questions about a tar sands project in Canada, where oil companies dig oil out of the ground rather than drill for it.

Tar sands 'threat'

Jasmine Thomas from the First Nation Yinka Dene Alliance in British Columbia, Canada, said she and her people are worried about deteriorating water quality and an infringement of the rights of indigenous people.

"We are being threatened by the tar sands development," she said afterwards.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, also from Canada, said his community's "bush-life peace has been taken away".

Jasmine Thomas from the First Nation Yinka Dene Alliance in British Columbia, Canada
Jasmine Thomas is worried about deteriorating water quality

The BP bosses, seated high on a bright green stage at the front of the vast hall, insisted they are "doing this in a very responsible way" but acknowledged it's controversial.

Some people in the hall tried to move forward to get onto the stage, but burly security staff grabbed them and they were kicked out of the event.

One of them was literally carried out.

The chairman apologised for the "disturbance" and the meeting carried on, with a barely noticeable pause in the proceedings.

Anyone who wanted to ask a question was allowed to. The event was, therefore, at least twice as long as last year's, and many shareholders got bored or hungry and drifted off for the free lunch.

Eventful

But this year's big BP news is about Russia - a massive $16 billion Arctic exploration deal with state-owned Rosneft.

But things aren't going according to plan, and shareholders are annoyed.

BP chief executive, Bob Dudley
It was Bob Dudley's first AGM as chief executive

"I'm not happy; that's why I'm here," said one small shareholder as he was rushing past protesters.

Another man told me, "I think they've got a very, very hard struggle to do this. I don't think it's a very good idea to go to such lengths of business with Russia."

So is this a strategic mistake, I ask him.

"Another one, yes," he replies.

BP's new-ish chief executive, Bob Dudley, insisted it must go ahead because Russia is such a huge source of oil.

It was his first annual general meeting as chief executive.

The event probably was rather more eventful than he would have hoped.

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