BP faces wave of protests at shareholder meeting
Thursday, April 14, 2011
LONDON (AP) — BP faces waves of protests at its shareholder meeting in London on Thursday as fishermen from the U.S. Gulf Coast complain about poor compensation for the oil spill and institutional investors protest against excessive executive pay packets.
But the company has gained some critical breathing room on another major problem — at the last minute, it has gained an extension to the original Thursday deadline to complete a stalled major deal in Russia amid a dispute with other venture partners in that country.
Just ahead of the annual general meeting, which is expected to attract hundreds of disgruntled investors, BP said Russia's OAO Rosneft had agreed to move the deadline to complete a $16 billion share swap to May 16.
Rosneft had initially refused to budge on the deadline, throwing the deal into doubt and casting a large shadow over the shareholder meeting — the first since the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf almost a year ago that sparked off the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.
Rosneft spokesman Rustam Kazharov confirmed the deadline extension, but declined to comment when asked whether the company planned to look for another partner to replace BP in the deal to explore the Russian sector of the Arctic.
Adding to BP's woes, two of the world's biggest pension funds have added their names to a growing list of investors planning to vote against the company's annual report at the meeting. Complaints include the level of executive bonuses and the re-election of a key safety executive.
Indigenous communities angry at the company's involvement in tar sands extraction in Canada and scores of local workers embroiled in a dispute at a BP-owned biofuels plant in northern England, are also planning protests outside the meeting at London's vast ExCel centre in London's Docklands district.
BP PLC investors who have watched the company lose a quarter of its market value, or some $55 billion, in the past 12 months, as well as losing their valuable dividend payments, are ready to put the company on the spot.
The meeting is scheduled just days shy of the anniversary of the explosion that killed 11 workers and began the spill that has so far cost BP some $40 billion — and former CEO Tony Hayward his job.
It is also the first opportunity many investors have had to publicly address BP management.
A group of fishermen from the U.S. Gulf Coast who were hit by the spill have bought shares in the company to give them the right to attend the meeting — and keep the disaster in the spotlight.
"I am coming to articulate the anger of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed while the BP board continues to prosper," said Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman from Texas.
Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association, said he planned to tackle the company over its compensation process, claiming many oystermen have been denied payments or given insufficient payouts.
"We've not been made whole: our fishing grounds have been depleted, our oysters are dead and we're not receiving the funds we need to support and sustain ourselves," Encalade said. "We're seeing money going everywhere but at ground zero. We're the communities at ground zero, the first to be put out of work and we're going to be the last to be able to go back to work and sustain ourselves."
Pressure from institutional shareholders is also growing on Chief Executive Bob Dudley, the first American to lead the British oil company since taking over in October, and Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg.
Calpers, the biggest U.S. public pension fund, and the Florida State Board of Administration have said they will join other smaller U.S. and European religious and ethical funds in voting against the reappointment of Bill Castell, the head of the safety, ethics and environment assurance committee. The two state pension boards together own some 0.4 percent of BP's total stock.
And both Pirc, the investor advice service, and the Association of British Insurers have issued warnings about excessive pay packages for two BP executives.
Iain Conn, BP's head of refining and Chief Financial Officer Byron Grote are receiving $505,000 and $621,000 for their performances not related to the oil spill.
Hayward has also grabbed headlines with a $17.9 million pension, $1.6 million payoff and about $13 million in share options despite a series of public gaffes that led to his ceding the CEO post to Dudley.
Dudley is unlikely to face any direct criticism on this front though as he's waived his bonus this year.
However, he will be under pressure to explain the stalled share swap with Russia's OAO Rosneft. In the deal, BP and Rosneft would exchange stakes valued each at about $8 billion.
The deal was to cement BP's move forward from the Gulf spill and show it no longer needed to rely so heavily on the United States, where it is still barred from drilling in the Gulf.
Instead, a quartet of Russian billionaires, who are BP's partners in the older TNK-BP venture have successfully challenged the share swap in the courts, acquiring an injunction against the deal.
While BP has successfully gained some breathing room by getting Rosneft to extend the deadline, the injunction remains.
BP said Thursday it would continue with the court-appointed arbitration process to "obtain a final award on all outstanding issues."
Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this story.
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