'Small People' Respond to BP

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BP PLC (Stock Quote: BP) announced yesterday that it will suspend its dividend distributions for the rest of this year and set up a $20 billion fund to assure victims of the Gulf oil spill that they will be compensated for their losses.  All because, at least according to BP Board Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, they “care about the small people.”

BP cares about the small people so much that Svanberg had to call them “small people” three times as he addressed reporters outside the White House yesterday, following his meeting with President Barack Obama. In case you missed it, here is the full quote:

“[President Obama] is frustrated because he cares about the small people and we care about the small people,” Svanberg said. “I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care, but that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people.”

It doesn’t help that Svanberg went on vacation following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Or that BP buddy (and CEO) Tony Hayward told everyone during a public apology in May that he wants his life back. To recap that public relations nightmare: “There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do,” Hayward said. “You know, I’d like my life back.”(Well, at least he didn’t accuse the little people of stealing it from him. )

Of course, Svanberg, like Hayward, promptly issued an apology for his poor choice of words, saying he was very sorry for speaking so “clumsily.” BP spokesman Toby Odone told The Associated Press “it is clear that what he means is that he cares about local businesses and local people. This was a slip in translation." See, Svanberg is Swedish and English isn’t his first language, hence the snafu. This excuse, however, isn’t exactly quelling the public’s subsequent outrage.

“Even still, I don't think it was simply a verbal gaffe,” Eco-blogger Shea Gunther wrote on the Mother Nature Network. “It explains all too well what BP thinks of the people feeling the impact of the company's corner-cutting."

Justin Taffinder, a New Orleans resident, told The Associated Press, “"We're not small people. We're human beings. They're no greater than us. We don't bow down to them. We don't pray to them."

Other bloggers had a (slightly) different perspective on Svanberg’s comment.

“The people who run BP are an arrogant bunch who seem to have a penchant for sticking their foot in their mouth when they speak,” blogger Ron Schenone wrote. However, Schenone added, in quasi defense of the oil company, “No matter what your political affiliation or what your personal feelings are about BP, the fact is that everyone has to share some of the blame on how these people act. It is the ’small people’ who elected our current President and the folks in Congress. It is the ’small people’ who made BP rich by buying their products.”

However you chose to divvy up the blame, BP might want to take blogger and speechwriter Jane Genova’s suggestion.

“Had one of us American-English speechwriters created or at least reviewed BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg's talking points for the White House, he might not have used that unfortunate phrase,small people," she wrote. “In a democracy, no one is small.  Every voice is equal.”

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