While reading BP’s 2013 Annual Report issued a few weeks ago, in which the company’s Chairman of the Board, Carl-Henric Svanberg, proclaimed that BP “will fight through the courts … for however long it takes” in its attempt to renege on the oft-stated “Commitment to the Gulf,” I came across a surprising discovery.
Buried on page 48 was a paragraph titled “The BP Code of Conduct.” Why … what is this?
Based on the company’s actions in the Deepwater Horizon affair, its recent purchase of a Houston refinery to allegedly skirt U.S. law, accusations of price-fixing, surprising complicity in the Exxon Valdez fiasco, ongoing safety breaches, and the hiring of online mercenaries to silence critics, (like me), I assumed BP had no such “Code of Conduct,” or at least not one that purported to require a higher level ethical behavior.
We are committed to respecting people’s privacy
On privacy, The Code reads as follows:
“We are committed to respecting people’s privacy and the confidentiality of personal information … [Employees should] use personal information that you are authorized to access only for the purposes known to, or expected by, the individuals concerned – that is, fairly and with absolute integrity.”
Tell that to Emeril, who the company publicly maligned for filing a legitimate business economic loss claim, which has been judicially-approved and certified by three appeal panelists as proper.
BP placed advertisements in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal attacking the iconic New Orleans chef for doing nothing but participating in the settlement program BP itself designed.
How was The Code violated in this instance? Let us count the ways. First, I doubt Emeril feels his confidential information was used “fairly and with absolute integrity” while “respecting his privacy.” But more important is this Federal Court Order issued nearly two years ago by Judge Barbier who oversees the BP litigation:
“BP … shall not have access to any individual Claim File for a Claim that is being processed and has not yet been resolved in the Settlement Program, except if the Claim File is needed by BP, a Claimant, or their counsel, to prosecute or defend an Appeal … All Claims Information shall be kept confidential and shall not be disclosed except as allowed by this Order or subsequent Order of the Court…” (emphasis added)
While BP can access confidential claim data in order to appeal an award, nowhere is it suggested that BP can access such information to run a smear campaign against an otherwise legitimate claimant. In fact, when Judge Barbier was informed last week of BP’s improper use of confidential claimant data, the Judge Ordered BP to immediately destroy any such information.
We expect all our contractors to follow our Code
Presumably this applies to contractors such as BP’s outside legal counsel? If so, there have been violations of numerous Code provisions.
Here is what Judge Barbier had to say in November 2013 of the company’s lawyers when they reversed their long held position on what qualifies one to receive compensation for economic loss associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:
“BP accuses the Claims Administrator of ‘rewriting’ and ‘systematically disregarding’ the Settlement Agreement. To the contrary, when it talks about causation, if anyone is attempting to rewrite or disregard the unambiguous terms of the Settlement Agreement, it is counsel for BP.
“Frankly, it is surprising that the same counsel who represented BP during the settlement negotiations, participated in drafting the final Settlement Agreement, and then strenuously advocated for approval of the settlement before this Court, now come to this Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and contradict everything they have previously done or said on this issue. Such actions are deeply disappointing.” (emphasis added) – Judge Carl Barbier, Order, November 22, 2013
Code provisions applicable here include these gems:
“Our approach is built on respect, being consistent and having the courage to do the right thing.” (emphasis added)
“We hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards and behave in ways that earn the trust of others.” (emphasis added)
“We work in good faith.” (emphasis added)
I suspect that Judge Barbier would not concur, and I know Claims Administrator Juneau would not, as just this week he called BP’s allegations “patently untrue.”
This is a problem for BP’s attorneys, as The Code obligates company employees who are aware of violations to report them:
“We expect all our contractors and their employees to act in a way that is consistent with our Code and follow its principles. We will consider terminating contracts where we believe they have not met our standards or their contractual obligations.” (emphasis added)
I submit that Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg must know full well what strategies his lawyers are employing since he proclaimed that BP “will fight through the courts … for however long it takes.” Thus, according to The Code, Mr. Svanberg is obligated to blow the whistle on his legal counsel:
“If you become aware of a breach or potential breach of our Code or other legal requirements, you must report it straightaway.”
I guess we’ll soon be seeing a new BP legal team then?
BP will make no political contributions
It says that, right on page 74. In fact it reads as follows:
“Wherever we do business, our approach to corporate political activity is clear and uncompromising. BP will not take part directly in party political activity. BP will make no political contributions – either in cash or in kind.” (emphasis added)
I was happy to see that the company took such a clear and uncompromising stance on purchasing democracy. By making no political contributions whatsoever, we can rest assured that our elected leaders have America’s best interests at heart, not simply BP’s.
You see, even though The Code says that BP will be uncompromising in its rejection of pay-for-play politics, note the word “directly” in the provision quoted above. While the company itself has not donated $1,664,205 to politicians since 1999, BP employees, through their own, separate fund, have.
Kinda seems like a loophole to me that is anything but an “approach to corporate political activity that is clear and uncompromising.”
Some feel good parting thoughts
The following are some general Code provisions, that, given the above revelations and others (like the U.S. Department of Justice saying BP manipulated and obstructed Federal investigators, was less than forthright with officials, and provided false and misleading information to regulators), seem laughable:
“We say what is true. We do what is right.”
“Our Code represents our commitment to do the right thing.”
“We care about the consequences of our decisions, large and small, on those around us.”
“We always strive to do the right thing.”
“We are committed to our role in society and to meeting our obligations to the countries and communities in which we do business.”
As a citizen of the country of the United States and a resident of the Gulf community, I am far from comforted by those mere words. BP’s actions on the other hand, speak loud and clear.
As a plaintiff attorney, Tom Young has been at the forefront of some of the Nation's worst disasters. In 2015, he was judicially appointed to represent over 200,000 plaintiffs in an allocation proceeding involving a $1.24 billion settlement with Deepwater Horizon contractor Halliburton and rig owner Transocean. Currently, he's focused on representing numerous communities across the country that have been ravaged by the opioid epidemic and are now seeking damages from drug manufacturers and distributors.