Protests mar BP's first AGM since Gulf of Mexico oil spill

Vidya Ram London | Updated on November 20, 2017

Dressed in red silk kurtas and turbans, the eight musicians of bass band Bombay Baja, seemed like an unlikely part of the protests at BP's annual general meeting in East London. They played Bollywood and bhangra tunes to the protesters who gathered outside the Excel Centre in East London, where BP's first AGM since the Deepwater Horizon explosion took place on Thursday.

‘BP your party is over,' read one large sign on the railings outside the conference centre. ‘BP shame on you,' read another.

The meeting attracted a variety of protests: some were from fishing communities on the Gulf of Mexico coast who had bought BP shares and travelled all the way to Britain to express their anger at the company. The bhangra band, as their manager explained, had been hired by the GMB trade union there to protest a labour dispute at BP's bio-fuel ethanol site at Saltend in northern England. “We're here to support the workers who have been locked out of the site,” he explained.

The AGM, which would always have been rocky so close to the anniversary of the explosion that killed 11 rig workers, was even more charged following delays to its attempted share swap with Rosneft, the Russian oil producer.

Alfa-Access-Renova, BP's partners in joint venture TNK-BP, have put up a legal challenge against the share-swap, arguing that it breached their partnership agreement.

The share-swap agreement was due to expire on Thursday, had BP not managed to extend it till mid-May. The Russian venture, “a lucrative Arctic exploration”, is crucial for the firm as it attempts to extricate itself from US dependence.

“It is in the interests of BP's long-term growth in value that we build on the major and unique position within Russia,” BP Chairman, Mr Carl Henric Svanberg, said in a speech to shareholders.

The new Chief Executive, Mr Bob Dudley, described the past year as “an extraordinarily challenging year for our company.”

“I grew up on the Gulf Coast of the US and so it was, and is, very personal for me,” he added, pledging to create a safer BP.

“We have put in place a comprehensive programme of activity to strengthen safety and risk management in BP.”

He also highlighted the major progress the firm had made in cleaning up the Gulf. Over 48,000 people, 6,500 vessels and 2,500 miles of boom had been involved, he said. “Over 99 per cent of the Gulf is also open for fishing. And Government testing has consistently found Gulf seafood safe to eat,” he said.

However, the company's pledges failed to impress protesters, some of whom attempted to storm the meeting, and were forcibly removed from the building.

Published on April 14, 2011

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