London’s Natural History Museum Under Fire: A Deal With an Oil Company

London’s Natural History Museum Is Accused of Greenwashing After Entering Into Contracts With an Energy Company That Contain a "Gagging Clause".

Jan 10, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
London's Natural History Museum
The artist activist group Bp-or-not-Bp stage a ceremonial performance at the British Museumin 2016. Photo by Kristian Buus/In Pictures via Getty Images Images.

 

London’s Natural History Museum received criticism for signing a contract with a gagging clause. This means the museum can not critique a Danish oil company. The oil company sponsors for the event’s wildlife photography contest. Also, they incorporated the condition into a deal with Dong Energy in 2016.

 

London’s Natural History Museum Uses the Tehniques of Greenwashing

Londons's Natural History Museum
A cormorant swims through baitfish under oil rigs in Southern California. A different image also showing a bird hunting fish beneath an oil platform, featured in the 2106 Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. Photograph: Brook Peterson/Getty Images/Stocktrek Images

 

The energy company Ørsted – formerly known as Dong – divested from fossil fuels in 2017, the year after it started sponsoring the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. The exhibition highlighted as not providing “any context about the oil industry’s negative environmental impact on marine ecosystems”, took place in 2016.

 

The company had a big investment in oil and gas in 2016. The Natural History Museum committed not to say “anything” that could “harm the reputation” of the business. A phrase like that clearly puts the institution in conflict of interest.

 

One wall text at the 2016 exhibition stated: “Drilling for oil is not beneficial for wildlife, yet oil rigs can provide shelter and a rich food supply for many animals including Brandt’s cormorants.” The museum is a natural history institution supported by tax dollars. Others also called out the company. The company also faced criticism using sponsoring tactics to influence public discourse on environmental issues-referred to as “greenwashing.”

 

Rebekah Mercer
Rebekah Mercer was on the board of the Museum of Natural History in New York, but her family’s foundation funds groups that deny climate change. ©Patrick McMullan. Photo Patrick McMullan/PMC

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

 

“It is totally unacceptable that, when the public walk through the doors of British museums, the information they consume is under control by large corporations,” Robin Wells, a representative from the advocacy group Fossil Free London said. The museum renewed its agreement with the energy business in the fall of 2020. But, it is important to say that clauses preventing the museum from criticising corporate partners are no longer included in new contracts.

 

“We retain absolute editorial control over all our exhibitions” – The Museum

Front fasade
Front façade of the museum, January 2006.

 

A representative for the Natural History Museum released a statement. “We retain absolute editorial control over all our exhibitions. Any suggestions sponsors have influence over the content we share is categorically untrue”, the representative said. 

 

Environmental organizations accused the usage of the gagging clause of greenwashing. They also highlighted questions about how big businesses could use sponsorship money to sway public opinion on environmental issues. Also, All British museums and art institutions are being urged by the advocacy organization Fossil Free London to stop signing agreements with major corporations that include this form of gagging clause.

 

London's Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum

 

A spokesperson for Ørsted also spoke their mind. The company said they didn’t attempt to to sway the Natural History Museum’s opinions or impair its capacity to offer its customary high standard of unbiased, critical, fact-based commentary on any area of the energy industry sector.



Author Image

By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.