Piles of wood chips, part of The Rubbish Collection by Joshua Sofaer on display at the Science Museum in London. Photograph: Katherine Leedale

Science Museum's sponsorship deal with Shell comes to an end

Nicola Sullivan, 13.11.2015
Campaigners call for the museum to end its relationship with BP
The Science Museum has revealed that it has no “future activities” confirmed with Shell after its five-year partnership with the oil giant comes to an end in December.
A spokeswoman for the Science Museum told the Museums Journal: “We have had a long- term relationship with Shell with whom we remain in open dialogue.” But she said no plans had been made for the museum to continue working with Shell.

The museum made the announcement after it was subject to a freedom of information request from the campaign group BP or not BP to reveal whether the deal would be renewed after December.

The partnership between the museum and Shell came under scrutiny in June when emails revealed that the oil giant had concerns about elements of the museum’s permanent exhibition Atmosphere, Exploring Climate Science and the extended Climate Changing programme.
The emails showed that Shell was concerned that the Rubbish Collection exhibition by the artist Joshua Sofaer, which documented waste generated by the museum over 30 days, created an “opportunity for NGOs to talk about some of the issues that concern them around Shell’s operations”. 

The oil giant also asked whether a seminar was invitation-only in order to avoid a discussion of the way it did business. At the museum said that curatorial staff had complete control during the partnership, but that it was normal for a sponsor to make suggestions.
Chris Garrard from BP or not BP, said it will now campaign for the Science Museum to ditch its deal with BP. “Shell should never have been allowed to sponsor an exhibition on climate science. It’s no secret that Shell relentlessly lobbies against measures to tackle climate change – but the Science Museum went ahead with this ill-advised deal nonetheless.

"This is a step in the right direction, but the museum needs to stop legitimising the fossil fuel industry completely by ditching its deal with BP too.”


The headline has been changed to emphasise that the museum chose not to renew the agreement with Shell after it ended rather than ending it prematurely.


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MA Member
19.11.2015, 09:49
The headline of this piece could be misinterpreted - more accurately, a five-year funding agreement between Shell and the Science Museum will end in December. See Guardian newspaper article of the same title on-line, dated 12.11.15 which says: "The Science Museum told the Guardian it had not changed its position, and the five-year deal was simply coming to an end. It did not rule out future partnerships with Shell...'For the avoidance of doubt, we have a long-term relationship with Shell, with whom we remain in open dialogue. We may or may not enter into partnership agreements with Shell in the future,' a spokesman said."
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
19.11.2015, 14:12
The headline has been modified to clarify this.
MA Member
15.11.2015, 16:10
Interesting comment copied below from the Greenpeace Energy Desk regarding university research departments and 'sponsorship bias':


[[Maeve McClenaghan October 23, 2015
"Britain’s top universities...[accepted]...£134m in funding from oil, gas and coal companies in the past five years – even as many move to divest themselves from the fossil fuel industry, according to a Greenpeace investigation. …Dr Stuart Parkinson, Executive Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility told Greenpeace… “...A growing concern in science is the problem of ‘sponsorship bias’ whereby the results of research funded by a powerful interest – such as industry – are more likely to be favourable to that interest. For years, it’s been a problem in medical research – due to large-scale funding from pharmaceutical companies.” ]]

It is clear that this issue affects many organisations seeking sponsorship in the UK and internationally.

The MA's revised Code of Ethics does not say museums should avoid any specific types of company, but does say museums must find sponsors who share their ethical values.

It is vital that museums mandate that sponsorship is offered on an 'agenda-neutral' basis, to protect their integrity and trust with the public. Is this implausible for some types of company? Could, therefore, some types of company be regarded as ethically unsuitable sponsors for museums?
MA Member
18.11.2015, 21:48
yes, the MA revised code leaves the door open for partnerships with like-minded organizations - the operative consideration the being the ethic of the museum leadership. as this example shows, those at the Science Museum have no problem with oil companies...

so what could possibly go wrong?