BP and the apartheid regime

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BP, along with other major oil companies, played a major role in attempting to undermine the impact of sanctions on the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

In its final October 1998 report to South African President Nelson Mandela, the South African Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) condemned the mining and oil industries for their role in supporting the apartheid regime and discriminatory policies.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was established to investigate gross violations of human rights under apartheid, including the political and economic structures that allowed it to survive.

The TRC's final report stated that "to the extent that business played a central role in helping to design and implement apartheid policies, it must be held accountable. This applies particularly to the mining industry".

The final report also singled out multinational oil companies Shell, British Petroleum (BP), Mobil, Caltex, and Total, which it stated were "the most notable" of corporations not to respond to the invitation of the commission to make a submission on their activities during the apartheid era. [1]

The commission noted that the oil companies were the largest foreign investors in South Africa during the apartheid era. In the late 1970's international economic pressure was brought to bear on the South African regime through imposing an oil trade embargo. However, the major oil companies developed circuitous ways to keep oil deliveries flowing and sustain the economy. The Commission wrote that apartheid "South Africa also depended on five major oil companies to break the oil ban: Shell, British Petroleum (BP), Mobil, Caltex, and Total".

These companies paid a levy to the South African government's Strategic Oil Fund, which was used to finance SASOL, a project converting coal-to-oil to produce fuels for domestic transport. The coal to oil project was designed to limit the impact of the international oil embargo. [2]

Subsequent to the release of the report, BP defended their refusal to make a submission and specifically address their role in breaking the UN-imposed oil embargo aimed at isolating the apartheid government.

In November 1998 Merrick Dunster, BP South Africa's Public Affairs manager, wrote to Mining Monitor published by the Australian watchdog group, the Mineral Policy Institute, stating that "there were only two occasions during the sanctions era that embargoed oil was imported. In both instances this was in error. And both instances were reported publicly at the time. For the rest of the sanctions era BPSA, like every other oil company operating in South Africa, was compelled to purchase oil through the State Fuel Fund". BP did not comment on why it had not responded to the TRC request for a submission from the company. [3]

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