PLATFORM Unravelling the CarbonWeb
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Unravelling the Carbon Web is a project by PLATFORM. We work to reduce the environmental and social impacts of oil corporations, to help citizens gain a say in decisions that affect them, and to support the transition to a more sustainable energy economy.

Social Licence to Operate
Gog & Magog

Social Licence to Operate

In order for an oil company to produce oil and transport it to the global market it needs either the support or the acquiescence of the population in those areas of the world in which this takes place. Where the necessary support, or ‘social license to operate’, is not forthcoming the ability of the company becomes seriously impaired – an extreme case of this can be seen in the Niger Delta where a third of Shell’s production has been regularly ‘shut in’ by civil disturbance over the past decade. The companies work hard to prevent these kinds of problems, and to build the ‘social licence’ for them to operate – it does so through funding environmental schemes, supporting educational programmes or sponsoring cultural events.

The building of this social licence takes place not only where the oilfields are, but also in London in one of the companies’ centres of operation. Here Shell sponsors schools as well as the National Theatre and the Natural History Museum. Whilst for the past decade BP has worked hard to establish a strong hold on the cultural institutions of the British Establishment, sponsoring the Royal Opera House, the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the National Maritime Museum.

The financial support that the companies provide strengthens their position as a part of Britain’s cultural and social elite, and creates a perception of positive contribution to our society’s culture. This in turn not only provides them with an important profile with ordinary fuel customers, but far more importantly strengthens connections between the corporations and vital bodies such as government departments. The support of institutions such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, or the Department of International Development, are as – if not - more important to the global operations of Shell and BP as that of the population in the oil fields or on the pipeline routes.

PLATFORM has been questioning the means by which the ‘social licence to operate’ is constructed in London. We have particularly focused on the cultural sponsorship programmes of Shell and BP, working to assist London Rising Tide in the Art not Oil initiative.

A decade ago tobacco companies were seen as respectable partners for public institutions to gain support from – the current BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery was previously sponsored by British American Tobacco. Now it is socially unacceptable for tobacco to play this public role, and it is our hope that oil & gas will soon be seen in the same light, as the public comes to recognise that the sponsorship programmes of BP and Shell are means by which attention is distracted from their impacts on human rights, the environment and the global climate.