In 2002, while Lord Browne was CEO, BP prepared a document entitled “Cost benefit analysis of three little pigs.” This was in fact a cost-benefit analysis of how much a human life was worth compared to the cost of building blast-resistant buildings to put them in. A human life was worth £10 million:
The flippant report reads, in part: “Frequency — the big bad wolf blows with a frequency of once per piggy lifetime. Consequence — if the wolf blows down the house then the piggy is gobbled. Maximum justifiable spend (MJS) — a piggy considers its worth $1,000 to save its bacon. Which type of house should the piggy build?” The options listed range from a house built of straw to a blast-resistant house and the calculation placed a value of $10 million on each human life potentially lost.
Incidentally, BP chose one of the lower-cost options, one 10 times cheaper than the blast-resistant structures. Outzen notes that all of the fatalities in the Texas City blast “occurred in or around the nine contractor trailers.”
It should be made clear that we are not concerned on this website about the question of whether Lord Browne himself is a good or ‘moral’ person. The problem is much greater than that: he springs from an entire dominant system where the suffering of other people is considered unimportant compared to the business of making money. The very structure of corporations ensures minimum personal responsibility for those in charge, and maximum reward for taking risks – including risks with other people’s lives. The market system they operate in is constructed (by laws rather than ‘naturally’) to reward those who are most willing to do the kind of cost-benefit analysis performed by BP: more concerned with the company bottom line than with the true costs to people or society.
It is this system and the schools of thought that spring from it that are held up as ideals and that we are told should be emulated by government.
Good PR is of course another thing taught by this school of thought, which takes us neatly to the next topic…