A Mennonite mutual fund in the United States is pushing BP over key questions concerning the impact of the worst oil spill disaster in US history.
With hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP Deep Horizon well 5,000 feet below the surface, concern about the situation is spreading across the globe.
Three weeks after the explosion that sank BP's contracted drilling rig, MMA Praxis Mutual Fund's full investment team met by phone with the Head of Social Policy and Sustainability in BP's London office to receive an update on the company's efforts in the Gulf and to express MMA Praxis' concerns about what led to and will follow this disaster.
"Connecting directly to senior management in times like this is a critical part of our stewardship investing commitment," said Chad Horning, MMA chief investment officer. "It's important to engage management when we see things that trouble us, using our role as investors to encourage changes that are good for people, the planet, and the company's long-term viability."
MMA Praxis has been a long-time investor in BP. During that time there have been a number of troubling incidents, including an oil-pipeline spill on Alaska's North Slope and an explosion at the company's Texas City refinery that claimed 15 lives.
BP's move towards positioning itself as a sustainable energy company had not convinced its long-term critics, even before the US disaster.
They point out that BP's claim to be a global leader in producing the cleanest burning fossil fuel (natural gas) is an incremental improvement over oil at best, and a distraction from getting away from fossil fuels at worst. BP, they say, has co-opted the language of the environmentalists without the real commitment to deliver.
US President Barack Obama has also strongly criticised BP's chief executive Tony Hayward over the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In an interview with NBC recorded yesterday (7 June 2010), Mr Obama was asked about comments Mr Hayward made in the wake of the disaster, such as "I want my life back" and the Gulf is "a big ocean".
Mr Obama responded: "He wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements."
Campaigners named BP as one of the "top ten worst corporations" in 2006 following the Prudhoe Bay oil spill. They point out that since branding itself an environmentally sound corporation with the "Beyond Petroleum" tagline in 1997, BP has been hit with a number of fines for major pollution incidents.
BP's rhetoric about high levels of corporate social responsibility, particularly among socially concerned investors, has taken an incredible blow with this crisis, says Mark Regier, director of stewardship investing for MMA, who arranged the call with BP. "This crisis raises many new questions," he adds.
"Providing clients [with] diverse and competitive investment products means MMA Praxis is invested in more than 600 companies at any given time," said David Gautsche, president of MMA Praxis Mutual Funds. "No company is perfect, but we do our best to understand what impact our investments have. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico truly rises to historic proportions. The question for us now is how we can be most responsible with this investment."
"We believe that a company's true character is often most visible during times of great stress," said Regier. "MMA tends to respond to the entirety of a company's polices, practices and activities, not just high profile incidents. We are constantly asking ourselves 'what does this tell us about the company?' and 'are the right policies and changes being implemented?'"
Mennonites, who are part of the Anabaptist strand of Christianity, are one of the 'historic peace churches'.
A detailed critique of BP's operation is set out at Sourcewatch: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=BP  - with specific analysis of its 'greenwashing', re-branding and corporate responsibility claims: http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=BP%27s_Greenwashing_and_Recen... .
Acknowledgedments to MMA Praxis and The Mennonite magazine.