More than 120 museum, heritage and archaeology professionals have signed an open letter calling on the British Museum to cut ties with the oil giant BP.
Published on 11 November, the letter states: “As specialists in the human past – archaeologists, museum and heritage professionals, and students and collaborators in these fields – we have a unique understanding of the unprecedented climatic and environmental crisis now facing humanity. The scale of this crisis exceeds even that of the grievous current pandemic.
“Climate change threatens our security and wellbeing, will exacerbate existing global inequalities, and poses particularly catastrophic dangers to Indigenous peoples. We are deeply concerned by this situation, and believe that we must all take action in order to reduce the harm that is already being done by increasing global temperatures. We are therefore writing to urge you to end your sponsorship relationship with BP.”
The letter expresses scepticism about the commitment of BP and other fossil fuel companies to become net zero by 2050, accusing them of seeking to “create the impression that they can be trusted to manage the transition themselves”.
The letter continues: “BP continues to use sophisticated public relations techniques to manage its image and discourage scrutiny of its activities. We believe that BP's ongoing sponsorship of the British Museum should be seen in this light, as part of a strategy of reputational management. BP is taking advantage of the British Museum's status as a highly respected institution, and of the public's love of museums and heritage, to associate its brand with values of high culture, art, education, sophistication, reason, and knowledge.”
The letter concludes: “As colleagues and as friends, we respectfully ask you, the director and trustees of the British Museum, to do everything necessary to end the museum's association with BP, and to publicly commit to doing so as soon as possible.”
The British Museum is one of four cultural institutions in a five-year partnership deal with BP that came into effect in 2018.
The letter comes after the protest group BP or not BP? staged a musical performance in the courtyard of the British Museum over the weekend. One hundred performers called on the institution to end BP sponsorship and return “looted artefacts”, as well as urging the UK Government to pay climate reparations to countries in the global south.
BP or not BP? spokeswoman Sarah Horne said: “By partnering with BP and by refusing to return colonially-looted items such as the Benin Bronzes and the Gweagal Shield, the British Museum has become the perfect symbol of the historic damage caused by Britain's colonialism and carbon pollution. We're hoping that this action will support the global demand for climate reparations, and also put pressure on the museum's management to change its position on the issues of oil sponsorship and stolen artefacts.”
The protest was one of many climate actions taking place across the UK this week as negotiations at the Cop26 global climate summit in Glasgow draw to a close.
A museum spokeswoman said: “The British Museum respects other people’s right to express their views and allows peaceful protest onsite at the museum as long as there is no risk to the museum’s collection, staff or visitors.
“On Saturday 6 November the group co-operated with museum staff and the event was conducted within Covid-secure guidelines.
“Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing our society. As a major UK visitor attraction, we are conscious of the impact of our activity on the environment. We are committed to reducing that impact and improving our sustainability throughout all aspects of the British Museum’s operation and supply chains, from energy usage to waste management, from buildings to programming, from our global collaborations to new connections.
“The British Museum receives funding from BP, a long-standing corporate partner, to support the museum’s mission, providing public benefit for a global audience through their support for galleries, education facilities, curatorial posts and research projects. Without external support much programming and other major projects would not happen. The British Museum is grateful to all those who support its work in times of reduced funding.
“The director and trustees think carefully about the nature and quality of sponsorship before accepting. There is a copy of the BM's acceptance of donations policy on our website: Acceptance of Donations and Sponsorship Policy.”