BP has this great reputation for being an environmentally friendly and responsible company. I know it because their incessant television ads tell me it’s true. The ones that flank the national news stories about their horrendous safety record of explosions and worker deaths or their catastrophic oil spills. Those ads. When something happens they start the noise machine and appear to be the innocent party let down by their lessee.
BP (“British Petroleum”) is a British Company operating in the US. A US company operating in Britain is called Innospec. You probably never heard of them because most of the world doesn’t use their product, although they used to. They make tetraethyl lead for gasoline. Lead has been banned in gasoline in the US and Europe since the 1970s and 80s. The result has been a precipitous drop in childhood lead levels. But it is still allowed in a few countries. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was one. If you breathe you get lead poisoning there. If you got shot with a bullet you still got lead poisoning, although you weren’t breathing. You couldn’t win.
Indonesia didn’t ban leaded gasoline until a few years ago, decades after the rest of the world. Innospec, the only maker of the lead additives, was only too happy to sell it to them. Not just happy. They made it happen by “systematic and large scale” bribery of Indonesian officials, in the words of a British judge:
Innospec concentrated its efforts on a small number of developing countries. Mitchell said that “despite worldwide environmental and health pressure to change to unleaded fuel” Innospec used middlemen to pay bribes of up to $17m to “sweeten” Indonesian government officials between 1999 and 2006. These bribes secured orders worth $170m.
Indonesia had intended to phase out TEL and leaded fuel from 1999 but Innospec set up a slush fund to bribe officials to block legislative change until 2006 and prolong its sales there, Mitchell said. (Rob Evans, The Guardian)
The whole rotten scheme was discovered during the investigation of the “oil for food” program involving kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime, then under international sanctions. Document discovery of Iraq kickbacks also uncovered the Indonesian ones. The results was a years long investigation by UK’s Serious Fraud Office resulting in a record fine $12.7 million and another $25 million in the US for the Iraq kickbacks. That may sound like serious money (and it is for most of us), but it is estimated that the $17 million in bribes they paid Indonesia brought them $170 million in business. That puts them over $100 million ahead, even after counting the bribes and the record fines. Not much disincentive, I’d say. Prison terms might work better.
Not to worry, though:
Nicholas Purnell QC, for Innospec, told the court that the US-owned firm had undergone a “sea-change” and come clean and reformed itself. (The Guardian)
That’s a relief. And I’m sure BP has learned their lesson, too, and won’t blow up any more workers or spill any more oil. After all, the gargantuan costs they have incurred in the latest clean-up is said to amount to only 4 days profit. So neither BP nor Innospec are Dead Ducks. The dead ducks are floating in the Gulf.