BP and CSR: A Star-Crossed Relationship

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/11/2008 04:18:00 AM
Bloomberg columnist Ann Woolner has an interesting op-ed on the trials and tribulations of British Petroleum with regard to corporate social responsibility (CSR). While the company has some high-profile projects trumpeting its good eco-deeds, it has neglected less PR-friendly opportunities to make good--one of which has turned into a fatal PR fiasco. On the positive side:
When it comes to doing something good about global warming, London-based oil company BP Plc is the industry pioneer.

True, that doesn't say much.

``I don't think you can call any oil company a green company,'' says Andrew Logan of Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of environmental advocates and investors.

Groups such as Ceres that rate companies for doing the right thing give BP credit for investing in less-polluting fuels and for acknowledging a decade ago that carbon emissions can hurt the planet. They have acclaimed BP as the very model of social responsibility.

On the negative side, though, comes this well-known tragedy:

This week, BP became a pioneer of quite another sort. The company's U.S. division admitted in federal court in Houston to an attitude toward the environment so cavalier as to be criminal.

BP's unit has the distinction of becoming the first and only company prosecuted under a 1990 Clean Air Act amendment.

The air wasn't all that BP harmed.

Because of the company's keen attention to cost-cutting and a blasé approach to safety, deteriorated equipment set off a massive 2005 explosion at its Texas City, Texas, refinery.

Fifteen workers died, hundreds more were injured and walls cracked for miles around. The company last year paid a record $21 million civil fine to the feds for worker-safety violations...

Ralph Dean appeared in court this week to tell his story to the judge. Explaining that Dean himself gets ``too emotional'' to speak, his lawyer read Dean's statement about watching, seat- belted, from his forklift as a fireball knocked down and then destroyed the trailer where his wife and their fathers were working.

Dean dug through the wreckage, finding body after body, until he located his wife. She barely survived, albeit with permanent burn scars on her lungs. Both their fathers died.

``BP's true motto is ``Human life means nothing. Money means everything,''' Becky Linsenbardt, who was widowed by the explosion, told the judge.

Eva Rowe lost both parents, her mother decapitated, her father's bloody face still streaked from tears when she went to the morgue to identify his body. The daughter, 20 when the plant blew up, told the judge that pollution is the least of BP's crimes.

``BP's greed murdered 15 people,'' she said.

I suppose it's up to companies if they want to make longer-term commitments to CSR and see if financial benefits can be gained from doing so. While these efforts should be welcomed, companies should still cover the bases for what constitutes good corporate practice in everyday matters. Cost-cutting by reducing safety considerations can definitely backfire bigtime as with the case of BP's Texas plant, likely negating the good BP has done with its eco-friendly power initiatives.