BP greenwashing complaint sets precedent for action on misleading ad campaigns

Today, it was announced that an OECD complaint filed by ClientEarth lawyers alleging oil giant BP misled the public in its advertising campaign would have proceeded had the company not already committed to end the ad campaign.

In a decision that sets a precedent for complaints against corporate greenwashing, the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (NCP) has assessed ClientEarth’s world first complaint as being material and substantiated, despite the complaint not proceeding due to BP ending its ad campaign.

Our complaint against BP

In December 2019, ClientEarth lawyers lodged a complaint alleging BP’s global ‘Keep Advancing’ and ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ ad campaigns misled the public by focusing on BP’s low carbon energy products, when more than 96% of BP’s annual spend is on oil and gas.

In February 2020, BP withdrew its advertisements and its CEO Bernard Looney said they would not be replaced under the company’s new policy promising an end to ‘corporate reputation advertising’. He also committed BP to redirecting its advertising resources towards advocating for progressive climate policies.

Today the NCP, which sits within the UK’s Department for International Trade, released its initial assessment of ClientEarth’s complaint, which will not proceed further given BP has already withdrawn the campaign in question.

Exposing misleading ads

ClientEarth lawyer Sophie Marjanac said: “Oil and gas companies are spending millions to convince the public of their social licence to operate and deflect from their role in rapidly heating the planet.

“Our complaint called on BP to take down its advertising, and we welcome its decision to do so. We took issue with BP giving the impression that it’s racing to renewables, that its gas is cleaner, and that it is part of the climate solution, when the vast majority of its spend is still on fossil fuels.”

A precedent against greenwashing

In its decision, the NCP found that ClientEarth had a legitimate interest in the complaint, and that it was material and substantiated.

Marjanac added: “Today’s decision sets a precedent for people to use the OECD guidelines to hold companies to account for their greenwashing on the basis of consumer interests – including in their advertising. Fossil fuel companies using advertising to mislead the public over their climate impact have been put on notice.

“Ideally all fossil fuel advertising should be banned unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about the risks of climate change, including the dangers of continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels. The public should not be misled, and fossil fuel companies must be accountable for the damage they do.”

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