Science Museum signed ‘gagging clause’ with Adani despite outcry over Shell contract

Tonight, Channel 4 News has revealed that the Science Museum’s contract with Adani Green Energy to sponsor its new ‘Energy Revolution’ Gallery includes a “gagging clause” identical to one signed with the oil giant Shell earlier this year, which triggered a major backlash among the scientific community. Documents released following a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) also suggest that the new sponsorship deal was negotiated with the parent company the Adani Group – which is heavily involved in coal expansion in India and Australia – which also provided guidance to the museum’s Director on how to counter criticism of its mining projects. 

The revelations have emerged on the day that 60 leading scientists and museum contributors – including former chair of the IPCC Sir Bob Watson, former Co-Director of the Grantham Institute Prof Joanna Haigh, and Prof Alfred William Rutherford, Chair of Biochemistry of Solar Energy at Imperial and Fellow of the Royal Society – have committed ‘not to work with’ the Science Museum Group (SMG) until it announces a moratorium on accepting fossil fuel funding.

The documents, disclosed through FOI to scientist Alex Penson, reveal:  

  • How the museum’s official sponsorship agreement with Adani Green Energy includes a “gagging clause” committing it ‘to take reasonable care not at any time during the term to make any statement or issue any publicity or otherwise be involved in any conduct or matter that may reasonably be foreseen as discrediting or damaging the goodwill or reputation of the sponsor.’ An identical clause included in the museum’s sponsorship agreement with the oil giant Shell was widely criticised for undermining the museum’s independence as it could prevent it from accurately presenting the role of fossil fuel companies like Shell and Adani in significantly contributing to the climate crisis.

You can view the full sponsorship agreement here.

  • The museum was aware that its new sponsor’s coal mining activities would be a source of controversy and took steps, in partnership with Adani, to prepare for it. On 2nd April 2021 Adani shared a briefing with SMG Director Ian Blatchford about its Carmichael coal mine in Australia, which ‘covers [the] majority of the topics around which queries might be directed to us in coming weeks. While this might not be exhaustive, it should give some background about our Australian operations – the company is being referred to as Bravus Mining now. In case required, we are happy to arrange discussions with our head of communications for any clarifications. If not now, we could possibly have a joint call closer to the launch event to have better coordination.’
  • The contract negotiations seem to have happened with Adani Group and the Chairman’s office directly, not with the Green Energy subsidiary of the company whose name is not mentioned until close to the contract being signed.

There is even some confusion around the signing ceremony as to whether Adani Group Chairman Gautam Adani can legally sign the contract as he doesn’t have an official title in the subsidiary. (‘Chairman does not have any official title within Adani Green Energy currently. In case we need to include his name, we will have to do some additional formalities at our end to make it happen.’) but then there is a clarification that actually he’s the Chairman of Adani Green Energy too.

This undermines the museum’s argument that this is just a partnership with Adani Green Energy, not the wider Adani Group.

You can view the emails between the Science Museum Group (SMG) and the Adani Group here.

  • The museum’s due diligence report on Adani Green Energy fails to include the word ‘coal’ at all, despite including a summary of the Adani Group’s wider business activity, undermining the point of a due diligence process which is to identify likely controversies around a particular company. However, it does identify corruption allegations against the chairman and that he’s been debarred from trading on the Indian stock exchange.

It does also contain a link to a due diligence report on Adani Group, which could potentially cover the controversies around the Group’s coal mining activities, but this wasn’t disclosed by the museum. 

You can view the full due diligence report here.

The museum’s obligation not to ‘damage the goodwill or reputation of the sponsor’ was seen in action on 27th October when Ian Blatchford appeared on BBC Front Row in the wake of the Adani sponsorship announcement and actively defended Adani’s coal mining operations in the face of criticism from a local Indigenous community. During the interview, Samira Ahmed highlighted how Adani Green Energy is part of the larger Adani conglomerate, which is facing intense opposition across India for its coal expansion, land grabs and pollution, and in Australia for the massive Carmichael coal mine. She asked Blatchford to respond to comments made by Adrian Burragubba, spokesperson for the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council on whose land Adani is building the Carmichael mine, that ‘by putting this company on a pedestal, the Science Museum is complicit in Adani’s violation of our Human Rights and destruction of our ancestral lands’.

Blatchford responded with a staunch defence of Adani’s coal business, dismissing Burragubba’s comments, questioning their validity and suggesting that they were exaggerated:

‘Well, Adani and their coal interests in Australia do get accused of a whole variety of things but the company would push back very strongly on those accusations… So, although you’re quoting one voice, I would not say that that is a definitive intervention on the issue, because we’ve thought about two things: not only [Adani’s] response to that and the truth of it – and there is certainly a great tendency for some campaigners to exaggerate very significantly those issues – but also we’re looking at other voices.’

It now seems likely that Blatchford’s comments were informed by the talking points on Carmichael that Adani had sent him in preparation.

Chris Garrard, Culture Unstained Co-Director, said:

‘If a politician parroted the talking points of a major fossil fuel company while taking their money, there would be uproar. But the Science Museum’s Director has signed a “gagging clause” with Adani, then publicly defended the company’s massive coal mine in Australia, while dismissing the concerns of Indigenous communities resisting its construction on their lands. How can the Science Museum be an impartial advocate for science if it isn’t free to call out the climate impacts of its sponsor’s coal investments? This isn’t just a sponsorship deal, it is brazen fossil fuel lobbying unfolding inside one of our national museums.’

The Science Museum Group was already facing intensifying pressure today, as an open letter has been published, signed by many prominent scientists and museum contributors, announcing they will not work with the Group until it commits to ending its partnerships with fossil fuel companies. 

The letter states: ‘Many of us have excellent personal relationships with the talented and committed members of staff that deliver the Science Museum’s programme but we can no longer be complicit in the policies adopted by the Group’s senior leadership and trustees. With sadness therefore, we commit not to work with any organisations in the Science Museum Group until it announces a moratorium on partnerships with fossil-fuel-producing companies. This means publicly committing not to renew any existing contracts when they expire, or to form any new ones until, at the very least, the company demonstrates a credible plan for phasing out fossil fuels in line with the Paris 1.5°C target.’

Since the Science Museum controversially announced Shell as sponsor of its current flagship climate exhibition, ‘Our Future Planet’, in April, a major backlash has unfolded with scientists, exhibition contributors, Greta Thunberg and the wider public speaking out through protests, petitions and a youth-led boycott of the exhibition. In August it was revealed by Channel 4 News, based on an investigation by Culture Unstained, that the museum had signed a ‘gagging clause’ with Shell committing not to “damage the goodwill or reputation” of Shell, despite major controversy surrounding the sponsor’s climate impacts. On October 2nd the museum’s former director Prof Chris Rapley resigned from its Advisory Board over its “willingness to accept oil and gas sponsorship” and on 30th October 2021 both mathematician and presenter Hannah Fry, and Director of the Institute for Research in Schools Jo Foster, resigned from the museum’s Board of Trustees over its stance on fossil fuel sponsorship and, as Hannah explained in The Times, its unwillingness to engage with “reasonable voices calling for change”

Youth strikers UKSCN London have mounted a concerted campaign for Shell to be dropped after discovering the museum had included placards within the Shell-sponsored exhibition from the strikes without the strike organisers’ knowledge or consent. They launched a boycott of the exhibition, worked with one of the young people who’d created the placards to get them removed from the exhibition in September and occupied the museum overnight in October. The museum has also been the target of multiple Extinction Rebellion protests, with Scientists for XR leading a 70-strong overnight occupation of the museum over the August Bank Holiday.