British Museum staff back former trustee's ‘brave’ resignation over BP sponsorship

24 Jul 2019 News

Workers at the British Museum have issued a statement, publicly backing Ahdaf Soueif who quit last week over its “immovability” on “moral” issues.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union said it was a “brave and principled decision” on her part.

In an article, published by the London Review of Books, Soueif said her resignation was not because of a single issue but was “a cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and the less privileged”.

Soueif had been a trustee since 2012 and cited three key issues as factors in her decision to resign. These included its sponsorship agreement with oil giant BP, the treatment of its workers and its silence regarding reparations and restitution.

“Schools bring children to the British Museum – the same children who are now living in existential dread of climate change,” she said.

The novelist added: “the British Museum is not a good thing in and of itself. It is good only to the extent that its influence in the world is for the good”.  

A new trustee will be chosen from open application by a three person panel. The choice must then be endorsed by the new prime minister.

'Troubling nature of the relationship with BP'

The union said: “Ahdaf's actions highlight, once again, the troubling nature of the relationship between BP and the arts. Through its sponsorship of our most prestigious cultural institutions, BP is allowed to propagate the myth that, without its existence, we would not have access to the collections of our publicly funded museums and galleries.”  

“We echo Ms Soueif’s call for the museum to take a clear position as an ally of coming generations,” it said.

The union pointed out that a decade ago tobacco companies were considered acceptable partners for public institutions but said: “it is our hope that fossil fuel companies will soon be seen in the same light."

Environmental organisations have called for four major cultural institutions to end their deal with BP. These include the museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Opera House and the Royal Shakespeare Company. It is a five year deal with £7.5m spread across the institutions.

The Tate museums group ended its agreement with BP in 2017 and recently declared a climate emergency.

The museum’s chair of trustees, Richard Lambert, said: “the resignation of a valued and very supportive trustee for seven years was a sad moment and unexpected.”

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