Leading figures from large corporations, including oil giant BP, are members of an influential but almost entirely unaccountable group advising the British Museum in secretive meetings, Channel 4 News can reveal.
The Chairman’s Advisory Group (CAG) consists of around 30 business leaders who have met to discuss controversial issues the British Museum has faced, including repatriation of artefacts, a Freedom of Information request sent by campaign group Culture Unstained has found.
Culture Unstained campaigners, who oppose the museum’s links with BP, have called for more transparency over the extent and nature of CAG’s influence.
“Claims that the British Museum is inappropriately influenced by any donations or sponsorship are simply incorrect,” a British Museum spokesperson said. “We follow best practice and fully comply with charitable law.”
BP told Channel 4 News: “We’re proud of our partnership with the Museum which has now run for over 30 years and our current agreement runs until the end of this year. We don’t disclose the value of our sponsorship.”
Museum documents, obtained by Culture Unstained and shared exclusively with Channel 4 News, show CAG members were sent a “confidential briefing document” in 2020 to “brainstorm new ideas” on “how the British Museum should engage with the new government”.
Culture Unstained co-director Jess Worth told Channel 4 News: “It appears that [CAG’s] remit is much wider than just giving advice about funding. It’s not normal practice and it’s not good practice.
“All of these discussions, if they’re happening, need to be out in the open.”
Responding to the FOI request, the Museum said: “CAG is run very informally. The members attend meetings at their own discretion and in their personal capacity, (not as representatives of their organisations.).
“It is our view that it would not be within their reasonable expectation that their attendance at these meetings would be publicised.”
In a statement the British Museum told Channel 4 News: “As a recognised national charity, we follow best practice and fully comply with charitable law. In considering any sponsorship, the Museum thinks carefully about the nature and quality of any offer before accepting.
“These decisions are taken in line with the stringent and robust requirements of our Acceptance of Donations and Sponsorship Policy. Claims that the British Museum is inappropriately influenced by any donations or sponsorship are simply incorrect.”
BP has been a sponsor of the Museum for several years and is a major supporter of the recently opened Stonehenge Exhibition.
BP told Channel 4 News: “We’re proud of our partnership with the Museum which has now run for over 30 years and our current agreement runs until the end of this year. We don’t disclose the value of our sponsorship.
“And more generally, we respect people’s views and understand that some do not welcome our involvement. We believe that the rapid solutions needed to the critical climate issues facing the world will be reached most quickly through dialogue and engagement, with companies, governments and individuals working together.”
On Monday more than 300 academics signed a letter to the British Museum demanding it sever ties with BP.
This comes after institutions like the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Tate, Southbank Centre, and Royal Shakespeare Company dropped oil, gas, and coal sponsorship.