BP launched their 2012 Olympics sponsorship advertising campaign in July 2011, just over one year after the 87-day oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. The re-seduction of public opinion began in televisions, high streets and roadsides across the country. Since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy the BP clean-up has taken place in two dimensions: the seabed, fragile coastal ecology, habitats and livelihoods of the Gulf; and that of its shamed image, justly sullied by a catastrophe caused by its own negligent, cost-cutting behaviour. The opportunity to be seen as a good corporate citizen through its sponsorship of the Olympics is magnificent timing from BP’s perspective.
This sponsorship support is not provided as a form of philanthropy, but as an integral part of engineering the social and political circumstances that will best ensure the long-term security of their investments in oil and gas projects. Approached as an engineering challenge, the corporation tends to see all opposition to its activities as solvable with the appropriate time, capital and techniques.
The construction of an offshore platform is one of the most expensive projects on earth in the 21st century. It can only offer a high return on capital if oil production if maintained over two or three decades. The maintainence of this production is usually threatened by social and political shifts in the countries of extraction. Any such threat to production – or the perception that that threat might exist – can immediately undermine the profitability of a corporation. BP’s share value was almost halved by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, not because of the potential costs of the oil spill clean up, but because investors were concerned that the company’s future prospects in the US were being undermined by the collapse of support in Washington DC and in the US media.
To guard against any such threat to the company’s value, BP works constantly to engineer its ‘social license to operate’. This is a term widely used in business and government circles and usually applies to the process of engendering support for a company’s activities in the communities who live close to their factories, oil wells and pipelines. However it can shed light on how corporations construct public support far from the places of extraction or manufacture – for example how BP builds support in London and the UK.
In the summer of 2010, a large swathe of the British political establishment called on the White House to ‘stop bashing BP’ – support that assisted the company in persuading President Obama to say on TV: “BP is a strong and viable company and it is in all our interests that it stays that way”. To construct and maintain this support, BP focuses on building a positive image in the eyes of politicians, diplomats, civil servants, journalists, academics, NGO’s and cultural commentators. These groups are known as the ‘special publics’ or ‘clients’ in the public relations industry. Building a supportive attitude within the ‘special publics’ can be done through direct engagement and dialogue, through advertising, and through financial support – funding academic posts at universities, creating programmes in schools, sponsoring culture such as Tate or the British Museum, and financing sports such as the 2012 Olympics.
The BP Olympics advertising includes images of a runner on a pristine beach, calling to mind the Louisiana coastline which remains oil-soaked to this day. The choice of imagery here seems a bit of an oversight by the PR agencies Ogilvy and Landor. The campaign seeks to dress BP in green, making references to BP’s use of biofuels for the Games. Yet only 40 out of 5000 vehicles will use this source that campaign groups argue is unsustainable because it necessitates large scale planting of monoculture crops that wipe out biodiversity, deplete soil and exacerbate world hunger.
The success of the campaign rests not on these details however. Via global media attention the BP brand is associated with the hype, passion and fervent feel-good factors of the biggest international athletics event. This lends the company a guise of social acceptability that enables harmful oil and gas projects the world over. As such, BP extracts what it needs to continue profiting on its investments – a social licence to operate.
For more on BP sponsorship, follow @PlatformLondon on Twitter for their upcoming arts publication ‘Not if but when: Culture Beyond Oil’ and the ‘Tate a Tate’ audio tour.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace