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ClientEarth Communications

19th December 2019

Fossil fuels

Our OECD complaint against BP explained

Our lawyers have submitted a complaint of over 100-pages to the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises against oil and gas giant BP, over its ‘Keep Advancing’ and ‘Possibilities Everywhere’ advertising campaigns. The adverts focus on BP’s low carbon energy products but in reality, BP are spending just £4 in every £100 on clean energy investments. The rest is spent on their traditional oil and gas business.

This is the first time a complaint has been made under the OECD guidelines about a fossil fuel company’s alleged greenwashing. Here’s how the OECD National Contact Point complaint mechanism works and the details of our complaint.

What is the OECD?

The OECD is an international organisation of developed economies that work together on economic and social policy. It has developed a comprehensive set of guidelines for responsible business conduct. The governments adhering to the guidelines aim to promote responsible business and encourage the positive impact of multinational enterprises. The guidelines cover a range of areas including environment, information disclosure and consumer interests.

In particular, the guidelines state that information provided to the public about potential environmental impacts should be accurate, measurable and verifiable and enable consumers to make informed decisions on the environmental attributes of products and services. They also state that companies should not engage in deceptive or misleading practices to protect consumer interests.

How to make an OECD complaint

Communities, employees or NGOs can bring a complaint to their national contact point if they think a company is breaching the OECD guidelines. The complaint can be made about something a company does anywhere in the world and must identify which OECD guidelines have been breached and provide evidence and supporting material. BP plc is listed in the UK and so we contacted the UK National Contact point.

What was in ClientEarth’s complaint?

Our complaint states that BP’s ads are in direct conflict with the OECD guidelines. Specifically we have questioned:

  • The potentially misleading impression BP is giving in relation to its renewable energy investments, given that oil and gas makes up 96% of its annual spend
  • The accuracy of BP’s statements around gas – which it describes as ‘cleaner burning’ – as well as the company’s claim that gas currently plays only a backup role on power grids, in support of, rather than displacing potential renewable energy generation
  • BP’s assertions that increasing global energy demand, including greater use of gas, in the coming decades is essential to human development and progress, without recognising the scope for increased energy efficiency in developed economies and the way severe climate risk associated with increased fossil fuel energy consumption will impact on prosperity.

We’ve requested that BP withdraw all advertising until it complies with the guidelines. We have also requested that BP make a public commitment that all future adverts will comply with the guidelines, and for all future advertising to come with a warning about the risks of climate change.

What happens next?

The UK National Contact Point (NCP) will send the complaint to BP and assess if the issues in the complaint are substantiated. If the complaint is accepted, ClientEarth and BP may enter into mediation. If mediation fails, the NCP will issue a final decision.

A successful decision would call on BP to withdraw their ad campaigns and then revise them so they no longer mislead the public about climate and other environmental issues.

However, this isn’t just about BP. We’re in a climate emergency and we want to see change across the entire fossil fuel industry. We’re calling on the new UK government to ban all advertising by fossil fuel companies unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about the dangers to people and planet. The public needs to be warned about the dangers of fossil fuel products and their contribution to climate change.

Read the full complaint here. We acknowledge the assistance of students at the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School in the preparation of this complaint.

This article was updated on 16/01/20 to more closely reflect the role of the National Contact Point in addressing complaints.