Solidarity with West Papua, Egyptian activists and culture sector workers

As part of our mass #MakeBPHistory British Museum takeover on April 23rd, statements were read out inside the museum in solidarity with people struggling against BP and repressive regimes in West Papua and Egypt. We also distributed letters to British Museum staff, expressing our support for their own struggle for fair pay, treatment and conditions from British Museum management. Films, photos and transcripts can be seen below.

West Papua Solidarity

“BP sponsors this museum. BP also runs a major gas extraction project in West Papua, a nation that has been under brutal Indonesian military occupation since the 1960s…by promoting BP, the British Museum has chosen the wrong side in this struggle.”

This statement is based on information sent to us by Raki Ap and others involved in the campaign – huge thanks to them!

The full text of the statement can be seen at the bottom of this page.

Egypt Solidarity

We are grateful to the Egyptian activists who helped us with this statement, and send love and support to all who are struggling for freedom in Egypt and around the world.

The full text of the statement can be seen at the bottom of this page.

Museum worker solidarity

We worked together with representatives from the PCS Union Culture Sector to distribute the following letters to British Museum staff during the protest:

The full transcript of the letter can be seen below.

Huge thanks to everyone who came and took part in the day!

Transcripts of statements and letter:

West Papua Solidarity Statement (read out in Room 24 on the British Museum, April 23rd 2022):

BP sponsors this museum. BP also runs a major gas extraction project in West Papua, a nation that has been under brutal Indonesian military occupation since the 1960s.

The Indigenous West Papuan people have been struggling for freedom ever since. In 2017, 70% of the Indigenous population signed a petition calling for an independence vote for West Papua – even though the petition was banned by the Indonesian government. Anyone publicly advocating for freedom in the country risks intimidation, violence, imprisonment or even death at the hands of Indonesian forces. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives under this occupation. And yet BP continues to operate in West Papua, extracting fossil gas and helping to fund the Indonesian government and its repression of the West Papuan people.

But the West Papuan people are standing firm, and organising for freedom. They have formed an Indigenous Government-in-Waiting, ready to govern the country on the day that freedom comes. At the Glasgow climate summit last year, they presented their own vision for West Papua, very different to the current model of corporate and colonial exploitation taking place in the country today. A free West Papua would see an end to the destruction of the world’s third-largest rainforest, a moratorium on extractive industries like BP, and a model of governance that puts people and nature before profits.

By promoting BP, the British Museum has chosen the wrong side in this struggle – just as the British government chose the wrong side back in the 1960s and allowed Indonesia to invade West Papua to prop up its Cold War interests. As many of the objects in this room are the legacy of British colonialism, so is BP’s presence in West Papua a continuation of the exploitation of the Pacific lands and peoples by Western elites and corporate interests.

The British Museum needs to drop BP, and make amends for its own role in whitewashing the history of British colonialism – including returning stolen artefacts like the Rapa Nui statue here in this room. And those of us calling for a clean energy future need to make sure we aren’t continuing that colonialism ourselves, by allowing the extraction of metals like nickel and copper – for use in solar panels and electric vehicles – on Indigenous lands like West Papua without the consent of the people who live there.

Egypt Solidarity Statement (read out in the Egypt gallery of the British Museum, April 23rd 2022):

BP sponsors this museum. BP also sponsors repression and colonialism around the world.

BP is one of the largest foreign investors in Egypt, controlling about half of the country’s fossil gas extraction. The oil giant therefore helps to fund the repressive regime of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in the same way that it helped to fund former dictator Hosni Mubarak. In return, BP has benefited from the ongoing crackdowns on protest and dissent in the country, including protests against BP’s gas operations which the regime has conveniently silenced.

By supporting repression in modern Egypt, BP is continuing the long tradition of British corporations, elites and colonial forces exploiting the country – as represented by many of the objects in this gallery. The roots of today’s corruption and repression in Egypt can be traced back to Britain’s long-term colonial interference, wealth extraction and support for both foreign and local elites at the expense of the Egyptian people.

BP has rightly been criticised for its operations in Russia, which have helped to build Putin’s war chest for over 20 years. We now need equal attention on BP’s support for repression in Egypt, as well as in West Papua, Azerbaijan and elsewhere. The British Museum must stop supporting this destructive company – and must also make amends for its own role in whitewashing Britain’s colonial past and present in Egypt and around the world.

Transcript of letter given to British Museum staff

Dear British Museum staff,

We’re here today to create a series of small protests and a mass performance inside the museum, to highlight the destructive activities of the museum’s sponsor, BP. Please be aware that our activities are not targeted at staff. We know it is the management who signed the deal with BP, and that the frontline staff did not get a say in this.

All participants in the event were tested negative for COVID-19 this morning, and most of the event involves people staying in groups and not interacting with visitors or staff. We know that COVID-19 has created a difficult time for museum workers, with a number of you working during the pandemic to keep collections safe, and struggling to get important health & safety protections.

We support the PCS union in their campaigns for better working conditions for cultural sector staff, and have been inspired by the past protests by British Museum staff against privatisation and in support of the former Carillion staff.

We are delighted to see museums open again, but it’s such a shame to see the British Museum open with an exhibition sponsored by an oil company. BP is one of the most destructive corporations on the planet. Sponsoring arts and culture makes it easier for oil companies to get away with their pollution, lobbying against climate action and human rights abuses, and the British Museum shouldn’t be helping BP to do it. 

The British Museum is one of the very few remaining UK cultural institutions partnered with an oil company. Tate, the National Portrait Gallery, the Edinburgh International Festival, the National Gallery, the Edinburgh Science Festival, Scottish Ballet, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute and the Southbank Centre have all ended their relationships with oil companies in the last five years.

The British Museum won’t say how much money it currently gets from BP, but based on BP’s own figures it’s somewhere around £375,000 per year. This is less than 0.5% of the museum’s annual income.

Zita Holbourne, the National Vice President of the PCS Union who joined us on one of our previous actions, said:

Our struggles against racism, for decolonisation, against climate change and for workers and human rights are all very much connected. Many objects pillaged by the British Empire now sit in the British Museum, where black, brown and other migrant workers find themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder in a three tier workforce with the worst terms, conditions and pay. The countries once subjected to Britain’s colonial rule are the same lands that many people are forced to flee today, thanks to the legacies of that colonialism plus the climate crisis. 

The British Government uses language to demonise and dehumanise these people with no regard for how Britain’s past atrocities – and carbon pollution – have created the conditions that forced them to leave their homes. The British establishment, including British Museum management, then seem happy to exploit those people as workers to benefit Britain’s economy, society and culture.”

It’s time for the British Museum to stop promoting the oil industry, treat its workers fairly and start to decolonise. We’re interested in your thoughts on all this so please do feel free to talk to us today, and in the future.

BP or not BP? x 

Email: Twitter: @drop_BP Instagram: @bpnotbp

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