Young people threaten to boycott Royal Shakespeare Company over BP deal

26 Sep 2019 News

A student group has threatened to boycott the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) because it is sponsored by the oil company BP.

The UK Student Climate Network sent the charity a letter stating: “Our government and large corporations are not taking sufficient action on climate change, and this is putting our futures in serious danger.”

The group is asking the RSC to remove BP’s sponsorship. If the RSC does not comply, the group said it would call on young people to abstain from attending shows at the RSC.

So far, millions of young people have taken action around the world, with four million people attending the last school strike. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg also told UN leaders their lack of action on climate change was a “betrayal” of young people.

BP is ‘jeopardising the futures’ of young people

The letter reads: “We are all scared about the dire state of our planet and what this will mean for our future, and the future of our children.

“We are writing to you because your discounted £5 tickets for 16-25 year olds are sponsored by the giant oil company, BP. This means that if we, as young people, wish to see an affordable play at your theatre we have to help to promote a company that is actively destroying our futures by wrecking the climate.

“These sponsorship deals allow BP to pretend that it cares about young people by giving them “the chance to be inspired by amazing live performances and kindle a lifelong love of theatre”. In reality, BP is jeopardising the futures of these young people they apparently care so much about, by continuing to extract huge quantities of oil and gas, and actively lobbying against the climate change policies that we school strikers are pushing so hard for.”

It adds: “BP’s human rights record is an embarrassment. Their close relationship with repressive governments and regimes such as Egypt, Mexico and Russia has led to horrendous human rights violations.

“It has been inspiring to see Mark Rylance acting on his principles and making a stand against this issue in his recent letter.” The actor resigned from his position and said the RSC deal helped BP “obscure reality of its activities”.

The youth activists stated that the RSC “needs young people far more than it needs BP”.

The letter concludes that if the charity continues to accept funding from BP, “we will come to Stratford-Upon-Avon, not to see a show, but to make a scene ourselves”.

Unless the company drops BP, the youth group pledges to avoid going to RSC plays, encourage others not to go to RSC plays, and lobby schools not to run school trips to the RSC. It also intends to team up with organisations that are already challenging BP sponsorship of arts and culture, such as BP or not BP? and Culture Unstained, to raise further awareness of the issue.

This letter comes in the midst of similar concerns about The British Museum, Royal Opera House, National Portrait Gallery, and Science Museum having sponsorship deals with BP. 

Culture Unstained: 'Removing the stain of BP sponsorship is something that is long overdue'

Campaigning organisation, Culture Unstained, said: “For too long, it has been powerful fossil fuel companies like BP that have written our response to the climate crisis through their lobbying against climate action, all the while propped up with the social legitimacy of sponsorship deals and PR campaigns.

“But young people see through the spin and are determined to be the authors of their own future. The power and moral clarity of the school strikers’ letter to the RSC is impossible to dismiss and, if the theatre’s artistic director doesn’t act on their demands, it will surely leave the RSC’s reputation in tatters. Removing the stain of BP sponsorship is something that is long overdue.”

RSC: 'We acknowledge the climate emergency and recognise the strength of feeling'

Catherine Mallyon, RSC executive director and Gregory Doran, RSC artistic director said: “We welcome the conversation around this issue and will respond once we receive the letter. We recognise the importance for a continuing, robust and engaged debate, we acknowledge the climate emergency and recognise the strength of feeling especially amongst our young people. Our work with over 500,000 students annually means their feedback and opinions are very important to us.

“This subject is very much live at the RSC with our artists, staff, board and our audiences and we look forward to reviewing the contents of the letter.”

BP: 'We are reducing emissions in our operations'

A statement from BP said: “BP has been supporting the arts in the UK for over 50 years and our support allows the institutions we partner to widen access and extend the reach of their productions and exhibitions. We have been working with the RSC since 2011 and each year around 10,000 young people, aged 16-25, benefit from reduced-price access to its world-class productions.  

“Our position on climate is clear – the world is on an unsustainable path and needs to move to net-zero carbon emissions in the decades to come. Everyone will have to play their part in addressing this challenge: individuals, governments and companies such as BP. A rapid transition will require a huge re-engineering of the world’s energy system and collaboration and with our know-how, relationships and capabilities, we believe companies like BP need to be part of the solution. We are reducing emissions in our operations, improving our products to allow customers to reduce their emissions and investing to grow low carbon.”

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