BP’s CSR Gets Perverted

If you thought you clicked on this link to read about sex tapes, prostitutes, or anything else that crosses your mind when you hear the word perverted, I apologize for misleading you.  This blog post is about perversion in the classic sense, and specifically what measures BP Plc is trying to take right now to change the public’s perception of what corporate social responsibility means.  It is also about the plight of CSR in a company that is --- or feels--- that it is in financial straights.

Once upon a time, BP was the poster child for sustainability in big oil, rebranding itself around the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” and positioning itself as a leader in alternative energy solutions and a number of other bold CSR initiatives.  How an oil spill changes everything.  According to Thursday’s New York Times:

BP is warning Congress that if lawmakers pass legislation that bars the company from getting new offshore drilling permits, it may not have the money to pay for all the damages caused by its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In short, BP is asking Congress to help it do right by those affected by its risky and irresponsible behavior by allowing it to forge ahead with the very activities that environmentalists have been rallying around for years.  So much for "Beyond Petroleum".

While BP’s actions are in themselves deserving of comment, they are even more significant due to questions they raise about a larger issue.  Just the other day, I read in Chris MacDonald’s ethics blog about the question of whether the Chilean miners can and should be compensated for the time they are trapped.  Or more accurately, whether the miners can be compensated at all given that the company they are working for may go bankrupt.

The common thread here is the question of what corporate responsibility means for a company that is in jeopardy of going out of business (or more accurately for a company that claims it is in jeopardy of going out of business).  Libertarians would argue that companies perform a service to society through their core activities, which means that intervening to prevent corporations from doing what they do best hurts society as a whole.  In this same spirit, BP would like you to believe that circumstances have modified the very definition of what constitutes a CSR initiative for big oil and that its current responsibility is to make enough money --- through whatever means possible--- to survive long enough to pay its dues for the damage it has caused.  Isn’t that perverted?

Photo credit: Noah Scalin