The mass media is full of reports on legal action being taken on behalf of shareholders in BP over the continuing oil spill from the former Deepwater oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
An Australian video report was broadcast on 25 May 2010 and a composite article has appeared in The Australian on 26 May 2010 as well as elsewhere. Many outlets are mentioning the law suit (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Robert Freedman v Anthony B Hayward et al, Court of Chancery for the state of Delaware, No. 5511) but no details of the suit are publicly available at the moment.
Although safety is mentioned as one of the bases for the suit, it is likely that environmental impact will get prominence over occupational safety and that impact on stock value will be of the most concern. The shareholder outrage mentioned in some of the articles seems to focus mostly on the financial impact on BP share value rather than any moral outrage on environmental impact or dead and injured workers.
BP CEO Anthony Hayward has acknowledged the substantial “reputational risk” but his comments are almost always reported surrounded by financial bad news. The Australian article mentions the falling price of oil, the increasing cost of cleanup. SafetyAtWorkBlog notes that the BP share price has been almost continuously falling since the magnitude of the April 21 explosion is understood.
Currently community outrage seems to outweigh shareholder anger as is indicated by the comments by the US Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, and the more (global and corporately) significant comments by President Obama on 22 May 2010 (Audio of the President 22 May weekly address is available by clicking below.
The commission of inquiry should be extremely revealing about American corporate values in the energy sector.
One particularly useful comment for safety regulators and sfatey professionals was that spoken by the President on 14 May 2010 –
“We will trust but we will verify”
This sums up the self-regulation lobbying of business in Australia and should be remembered constantly as Australia moves to a new OHS regulatory regime that relies more on business cooperation and understanding than ever before.
President Obama may govern the United States but his comments on a range of political issues set the tone for the aims and behaviour of politicians and corporate leaders in other countries. It is important to note the President’s response to the appearance and conduct of BP, Transocean and Halliburton executives at the Senate in early May 2010 (audio below):
“Let me also say, by the way, a word here about BP and the other companies involved in this mess….I know BP has committed to pay for the response effort, and we will hold them to their obligation. I have to say, though, I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter. You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t…..
But it is pretty clear that the system failed, and it failed badly….And for that, there is enough responsibility to go around. And all parties should be willing to accept it.”
All indications are that the spillage will continue for some time to come. The cleanup effort will continue for many months but behind the environmental images are the following issues that SafetyAtWorkBlog will be monitoring
- The deaths of 11 oil rig workers
- The corporate approach to responsibility
- The government investigations.
Each of these elements in this saga will indicate the veracity and authority of the Obama Administration to workers’ rights and the genuineness global corporate responsibility. It is hoped that a better world comes of it all.