Letter to British Museum staff

Dear British Museum staff,

We’re here today to stage a protest tour of galleries inside the museum, to urge the British Museum to end its long-standing partnership with its sponsor, the destructive oil giant BP, and to repatriate objects acquired through colonialism.

Please be aware that our activities are not targeted at staff, and that we have taken measures to make this tour as COVID-safe as possible for everyone. 

All participants in the event were tested negative for COVID-19 this morning and are wearing masks. We have chosen to organise the tour as an online event only, to avoid crowding the galleries. We know that COVID-19 has created a really 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 also thank the branch for issuing a statement in support of our “BP Must Fall” protest in 2020.

We are delighted to see museums open again, but it’s just 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. According to the UN, we have just ten years to avoid catastrophic climate change. 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. 

While other museums across Europe and in the United States are also starting to return stolen items, the British Museum has resisted pressure to do the same for objects in its collection looted by the British Empire. Our action today aims to make the links between this imperial past, certain objects in the museum’s collection, and the current-day colonial behaviour of BP.

The British Museum is one of the very few remaining UK cultural institutions partnered with an oil company. Tate, the Edinburgh International Festival, the National Gallery, the Edinburgh Science Festival, National Galleries Scotland, 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, a speaker on the tour and National Vice President of the PCS Union, 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 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 


Twitter: @drop_BP

Instagram: @bpnotbp