By Rebecca Warren, AGM Activist

More than three hours, a huge space in the Excel Centre, over a thousand attendees, lunchboxes and miniature wine bottles. And a team of 14 from ShareAction. It can only be the BP AGM.

There was no shortage of questions for the team to ask, on renewable energy, electric cars, Rosneft (a BP holding in Russia), BP’s activities in politically-difficult countries (for want of a better expression) etc. I had, as in a previous year, something unique. I had heard Yeb Sano speak at the Green Party conference, and he mentioned a petition to the “Carbon Majors”, including BP. It is an indication of the way my mind works that my reaction was to tap the person next to me (a ShareAction employee) on the shoulder and whisper: “That will be a good one for the BP AGM!”

Having done some research, I brought the following question:

“You have already mentioned that BP is absolutely committed to human rights [the Directors had said this in response to a previous question]. That is great – now let’s put it into practice.

At a conference in March, I was privileged to hear Yeb Sano speak: the former Climate Change Commissioner for the Philippines. He said that, in response to Typhoon Haiyan and other climate disasters, a petition was raised for the Philippines Commission on Human Rights to investigate the world’s “Carbon Majors”, the largest producers of fossil fuels, demanding accountability of those contributing to climate change.

More than three hours long, over a thousand attendees, and a team of 14 from ShareAction. It can only be the BP AGM

BP is the third company listed, after Chevron and Exxon Mobil.

It is powerful stuff: the petitioners state that the Carbon Majors should be held accountable for violations or threats of violations of Filipinos’ rights to, among other things, life; the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; and self-determination resulting from the adverse impacts of climate change.

They call for an investigation into the human rights implications of climate change and ocean acidification and the resulting rights violations in the Philippines, and whether the Carbon Majors have breached their responsibilities to respect the rights of the Filipino people; and – this is the point to which BP needs to respond – to request the submission of plans from the Carbon Majors on how such violations or threats of violation resulting from the impacts of climate change will be eliminated and remedied and prevented in the future.

The reaction to this question was extraordinary. Neither the CEO nor the Chairman made the slightest attempt to answer the question

BP has actually already submitted a reply to this petition , but it does not respond at all to the points raised. All it says is that BP’s position on climate change and human rights can be found in the most recent Sustainability Report. There is no mention, either in this reply or in the Sustainability Report, of how, to quote the petition again, “such violations or threats of violation resulting from the impacts of climate change will be eliminated and remedied and prevented in the future”.

So I ask you today to give a proper response to this point.”

The reaction to this question (“response” would not be the right word) was extraordinary.

The Chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, said that linking climate change to human rights was an interesting perspective one could take but that he had personally never heard of it. He reiterated this when I spoke to him individually afterwards. I would expect the Chairman of a fossil fuels company to have a greater awareness of the world, particularly the parts of the world that his company affects.

The CEO, Bob Dudley, initially gave a box-standard response, saying (as the Chairman had also said) that Carbon Majors play a major role in development, including the development of renewable energy. But then he went off the rails, bursting out that my question was very judgemental and I sounded like an American class action lawyer…!

Neither of them made the slightest attempt actually to answer the question.

This is my message to the Chairman and CEO of BP: considering how much you are paid (this had, of course, also been raised at the AGM) we should at least be able to expect you to engage sensibly with a perfectly legitimate question.

And another thing: you may be wondering what you have done to deserve fourteen ShareAction activists descending on your AGM (most companies get only one or two). The answer is that you have chosen to run a company with activities that attracted a shareholder resolution. If you don’t want so many people challenging what you do, then change what you do.

Thanks Rebecca! To find out more about our campaign on engaging high-carbon companies on transitition to 2 degrees, click here