RSC backs away from world’s biggest corporate criminal

‘Twould seem that the Royal Shakespeare Company has seen sense. At the end of a season of plays sponsored by BP that has seen us invade the RSC’s stage five times: here, here, here, here and here; huge audience support for our anti-BP soliloquising; and even RSC actors and staff taking a stand, the RSC has finally made clear its future intentions.

In this Independent article about our forthcoming Shakespearean flashmob in the British Museum, Liz Thompson, the RSC’s Director of Communications, says: “We have no further sponsorship [with BP] confirmed and we don’t discuss approaches to potential funders because of commercial confidentiality”.

This is fantastic news. It means that the RSC’s relationship with BP is to all intents and purposes over, at least for the time being. Of course we cannot know what has been going on behind closed doors, but our fear has always been that this sponsorship relationship would follow a similar pattern to BP’s others. The company likes to make long-term deals with iconic British cultural institutions. It has rolling 5 year contracts with the British Museum, the Tate, the Royal Opera House and the National Portrait Gallery, and had appeared to have set its sights on the Royal Shakespeare Company to add to this venerable collection.

The RSC has now confirmed that this is not the case. It will be very difficult for them to associate themselves again with BP considering the uproar caused by this recent dalliance.

The timing of this extrication is fortuitous for the RSC, given that yesterday BP officially became the world’s biggest corporate criminal. It admitted its guilt and responsibility for the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill, as well as the manslaughter of the 11 rig workers who were killed, and has been slapped with a $4.5bn fine – the biggest in US history. Meanwhile, the company continues to deepen its involvement in tar sands extraction in Canada – an industry so polluting that it has been described as having the equivalent devastating effect on the environment and local communities as a Deepwater Horizon spill every month.

But what of the institutions who are locked into long-term relationships with the lawbreaking oil giant? It is high time they took a stand. The longer the British Museum, Tate et al remain silent and uncritical about the dirty and illegal deeds of their most notorious sponsor, the more damage they do to their own reputations, as well as sending a powerful message that corporate murder and ecocide are perfectly acceptible practices. They should end their relationships with BP now – as the National Gallery recently did with arms company Finmeccanica, despite the contract still having a year left to run. Indeed, the Tate’s own ethics policy states: ‘Tate will not accept funds in circumstances when… the donor has acted, or is believed to have acted, illegally in the acquisition of funds, for example when funds are tainted through being the proceeds of criminal conduct.

On Sunday, we will challenge the British Museum on this directly, with a theatrical flashmob. Please join us in demanding that oil companies are kicked out of our cultural institutions before any more damage is done.

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