Corporate Social Responsibility



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Companies in the News

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Case studies of managing a crisis
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Corporate Social Responsibility - Companies in the News


BP the company
What are the issues?
What do the critics say?
What does BP say?
Find out for yourself


BP is one of the largest companies in the world - with a turnover dwarfing that of some nation states. As an oil company, it is directly linked with the use of fossil fuels linked with major environmental challenges on a global scale. No company has achieved a higher profile in its stated determination to completely re-orientate the business to adapt to the needs of a more sustainable society. With its major - and controversial - rebranding and commitment to becoming a sustainable energy company rather than simply an oil company - it has inspired and impressed some, and irritated others.

During his time in charge, Lord John Browne established himself as one of the most thoughtful business leaders taking a lead in corporate social responsibility. This was, however, a position that became tarnished at the end when a series of major accidents hit the company as a result of safety and maintenance failures.

BP the company

BP is one of the world's leading oil companies on the basis of market capitalisation and proven reserves. Its main businesses are Exploration and Production, Refining and Marketing, and Chemicals. Exploration and Production's activities include oil and natural gas exploration and field development and production, together with pipeline transportation, natural gas processing and gas and power marketing. The activities of Refining and Marketing include oil supply and trading as well as refining and marketing. Chemicals activities include petrochemicals manufacturing and marketing. In addition, the Company has a solar energy business which is one of the world's largest manufacturers of photovoltaic modules and systems.

What are the issues?

There are very few aspects of how a company behaves as a corporate citizen that do not apply to a company of the size and nature of BP. The most significant of these are the sheer environmental impact - not simply of the extraction of oil and the energy use of BP's own operation, but more significantly of the impact on climate change of the actual use of all the oil by BP's customers. The state of current scientific evidence raises serious question marks over whether or not human society can actually afford to burn all the hydrocarbons whose existence we have already identified - never mind potential future discoveries. Twenty years ago, people worried that one day the oil would run out. Now, it is the case that the real issue has been identified as one of emissions.

A company with such extensive operations in developing countries also needs to carefully manage its approach to human rights, and ethical business practices. BP will have significant impact on local communities - both as a huge employer and through the nature of its on-the-ground operations. It should expect to seriously seek to reduce negative impacts here, and to invest seriously in those communities.

BP as a global player, is immensely powerful. It has no democratic legitimacy, but often is better able to lead on the social development of the planet than national governments. This is a dilemma it needs to handle carefully.

What do the critics say?

BP's move towards positioning itself as a sustainable energy company has been the proverbial red rag to a bull for some. They point out that BP's claim to be a global leader in producing the cleanest burning fossil fuel (natural gas) is an incremental improvement over oil at best, and a distraction from getting away from fossil fuels at worst. BP, they claim, has co-opted the language of the environmentalists without the real commitment to deliver.

Campaigners named BP as one of the "top ten worst corporations" in 2006 following the Prudhoe Bay oil spill. They say that since branding itself an environmentally sound corporation with the "Beyond Petroleum" tagline in 1997, BP has been hit with a number of fines for major pollution incidents.

What does BP say?

BP states that it recognises the significant environmental and social challenges faced by the world in the 21st century. It believes it can, and should, play a part in addressing and resolving many of the issues associated with sustainable development. It also accepts that while the company can be part of the solution, it cannot and should not be the whole solution. Governments, companies and civil society must fins effective ways of working together.

Alongside the standard financial figures, BP reports its own greenhouse gas and other emissions, oil spillages, employee satisfaction, days lost through injury at work, and community investment across the world.

BP's policy statement commits the company to ambitious and wide-ranging business principles. The company's reporting seeks to illustrate how the company is meeting these commitments in a manner that supports the profitability of the business.

In his final introduction to a BP social responsibility report, Lord Browne said: "The past two years have been difficult for BP. In March 2005, at the Texas City refinery, we suffered a tragedy in which 15 people died and many more were seriously injured. We have also experienced operational difficulties in Alaska and the potentially destabilizing effects of intense and at times unbalanced media scrutiny and criticism.

"Given that context, the achievements recorded in this document, our sixteenth annual report on non-financial performance, are remarkable and a great testimony to the BP team across the world:

  • an improvement in personal safety, with reported recordable injury frequency the lowest in our recorded history
  • ongoing improvements in our environmental impact across a series of measures
  • an improvement in the development of people, including an increase in the number of women in leadership since 2000
  • and, of course, a strong financial performance allowing us to invest for the future and to reward those who trust us with their savings"

Find out for yourself

BP's site dealing with environment and society issues. Go >>

The Wikipedia entry for BP (at the time of writing, a bit of an ideological battlground between the different opinions) Go >>

The alternative case from one of the company's key critics, Sourcewatch. Go >>


This page last updated 2nd October 2007


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