Following the recent resignation of Ahdaf Soueif from the British Museum’s Board of Trustees, PCS British Museum branch stands in solidarity with Ms Soueif and her brave and principled decision.
Ahdaf's actions highlight, once again, the troubling nature of the relationship between BP and the arts. Through its sponsorship of our most prestigious cultural institutions, BP is allowed to propagate the myth that, without its existence, we would not have access to the collections of our publicly funded museums and galleries. As a branch of PCS's culture group, which is affiliated to the Art Not Oil Coalition, we reiterate our position that access to culture is a human right, not a privilege bestowed by large corporations.
The British Museum aims “to hold for the benefit and education of humanity a collection representative of world cultures.” Its association with BP is not compatible with this objective when the collection is being used to greenwash the activities of a company whose actions threaten lives the world over, both now and in the future.
Climate change and its effects will be felt most sharply in the global south and the relationship of south to north is also touched upon by Ms Soueif in the context of repatriations. As a union with a membership whose personal histories are intertwined all across the globe, it is important for our workplace to represent all of us, in the same way that the collection should represent world cultures.
The divisions in our country as a whole are rooted, in part, with an inability to reconcile with our colonial past. The Museum as an institution is in a unique position (and given its own history has a unique obligation) to lead these difficult discussions. We echo Ms Soueif’s call for the museum to take a clear position as an ally of coming generations.
Lastly, we thank Ms Soueif for drawing attention to the precarity faced by outsourced workers. The treatment of individuals employed by Carillion emphasises the importance of unions in the struggle against privatisation right across our public services. PCS will continue to fight for the rights of all workers being employed directly and indirectly across the public sector.
PCS British Museum branch thanks Ms Soueif for raising these points and calls on the remaining Trustees to make every effort to address the inadequacies raised.