In order for an oil company to produce oil and transport it to the global market, it needs either the support or the silence of the population in those areas of the world where this takes place. Where the necessary support – or ‘social licence to operate’ – is not forthcoming, the ability of that company to carry out its business becomes seriously impaired.
The building of this social licence takes place to some extent in the countries of the distant oil fields, but to a far greater degree in the cities of the global North, such as London. BP and Shell have between them sponsored almost all of London’s most prestigious museums and cultural institutions over the course of the last decade.
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. Platform is working with groups such as Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate to ensure 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.