Triumph for the young as RSC drops oil giant's sponsorship over climate change

A picture of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre across the Avon.
A picture of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre across the Avon.

Young people's concern about climate change has persuaded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) to drop its sponsorship deal with the oil giant, BP.

The company today announced its decision to conclude its partnership with BP at the end of this year. BP has supported the RSC’s £5 ticket scheme for 16 – 25-year olds since 2013.

Gregory Doran RSC Artistic Director and Catherine Mallyon, Executive Director, said: “Over many months we have listened to a wide and varied range of voices and opinions about our partnership with BP and their support of our £5 ticket scheme for 16 – 25-year olds. This careful and often difficult debate with, amongst others, our Board, staff, our audiences and artists, has highlighted the strength of feeling, especially amongst young people who we would like to benefit from the scheme.

“Central to our organisational values, is that we listen to and respond to the views of young people. Each year we actively engage 500,000 children and young people with Shakespeare’s plays. We have our nationwide Associate Schools programme, over 500 young Shakespeare Ambassadors across the country and we launched our first Youth Advisory Board earlier this year. In 2018 we conducted powerful research that analysed 6,000 responses from young people, that told us that arts and cultural subjects in schools matter to them. We called the report Time To Listen.

“Amidst the climate emergency, which we recognise, young people are now saying clearly to us that the BP sponsorship is putting a barrier between them and their wish to engage with the RSC. We cannot ignore that message.

“It is with all of this in mind that we have taken the difficult decision to conclude our partnership with BP at the end of this year. There are many fine balances and complex issues involved and the decision has not been taken lightly or swiftly.

“We would like to thank BP for their generous support of the RSC since 2011. We have issued 80,000 tickets to young people who have been able to experience our work through the BP sponsored scheme.

“We are committed to sharing our work with the widest possible audience, and the £5 ticket scheme for 16 – 25-year olds remains a priority”.

In a letter to the RSC, the UK Student Climate Network said: "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.

"This is despite its advertisement campaigns claiming to be playing an “active role” in reducing emissions and to be “working harder than ever to create cleaner, greener, smarter energy.” It is clear these are empty statements, as 97% of BP’s capital investment remains in oil and gas, and they plan on spending £41 billion on exploring for new oil in the next decade. As an organisation that appears to care about climate breakdown, it simply makes no sense for you at the Royal Shakespeare Company to be accepting sponsorship from a company that is the third biggest corporate source of greenhouse gases in history.

"Furthermore, 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. BP’s funding of the Indonesian government help them to buy guns which are used for the genocide of the people of West Papua, and they have been accused of being complicit in the kidnapping and torture of Colombian trade unionist Gilberto Torres. It is sickening that the works of Shakespeare are being associated with these events. It has been inspiring to see Mark Rylance acting on his principles and making a stand against this issue in his recent letter."

Read the students letter here.