BP’s Waiver Form Own Goal

BP’s nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico gets worse, but this time it looks like an own goal. To date they have handled themselves with some aplomb despite the naked politicking by a White House desperate to shed any blame for the spill and ensure that absolutely none of it sticks to the administration. That has resulted in constant references to BP’s culpability, that BP will pay the costs and that effectively none of it has anything to do with the USA. In the face of such adversity, BP have handled themselves with some dignity. The decision to employ local fishermen should have been PR coup but the simultaneous decision to ask them to sign a waiver looks misconceived and big brotherish.

Lawyers for fisherman complained over four specific articles:

  • BP, which is mandated to take 100 percent responsibility for the oil clean-up, is demanding that the volunteers INDEMNIFY IT for any accidents that might occur from the volunteers’ efforts (Art. 13(F));
  • BP demands that the volunteers WAIVE their First Amendment  constitutional free speech rights about the volunteer’s participation in the clean-up efforts of the disaster; for example, if a commercial fisherman signed this agreement he or she could not then speak to anyone about the disaster or clean-up efforts until BP first “approves” of what the volunteer wants to say (Art. 22);
  • BP demands a FREE-RIDE on the volunteers’ insurance policies so that if there is damage to a volunteer’s vessel or other injuries, such as to a crew member, BP will be an “additional insured” and the financial responsibility for the damage will rest on the volunteer’s insurance carrier, NOT BP; quite obviously, the volunteers paid good money for this insurance and BP should not be allowed after-the-fact to worm their way into that contract so that it can attempt to avoid further legal responsibility for the very volunteers it is asking for aid and assistance; (Art. 13(A)); and
  • BP demands 30 days of notice before any volunteer is allowed to pursue legal claims against BP, and there are no exceptions made for emergencies (Art. 13(I) [sic (G])

Now Federal Court has thrown out the articles and BP have backed down from making the fishermen sign the waiver. The impact of this has been to infuriate the a key constituency for BP.

After managing the fishing communities well, it now looks like BP is beginning to lose its touch as the corporation reverts to type: ie clam up.  Watch how one company Rep handled  this community on Fox. http://www.businessinsider.com/watch-gulf-coast-fisherman-flip-out-at-bp-town-hall-over-oil-spill-2010-5

It is often the small things that matter. It looks as though the BP waiver was relatively standard: in other words, it had not been designed for this situation, but it is how it looks that matters.  The waiver gives the impression that BP was trying to silence fishermen and avoid paying compensation. The waiver does not do that, but already heated forums are accusing BP (now increasingly referred to as British Petroleum) of trying to destroy fishermen’s lives.

BP needs to tread carefully in the next few weeks as patience and frustration take their toll. Most especially they will need to consider how they interact with the local coastal communities who, to date, have been the most sympathetic of all stakeholders towards “big oil”.