Science Museum ignored its own research on Adani to sign sponsorship deal

In October 2021, the Science Museum Group announced that it had signed a major new sponsorship deal with the Adani Group, a large-scale Indian conglomerate with investments in multiple industries, including coal mining and power. Adani will become the sole sponsor of the museum’s new climate gallery – ‘Energy Revolution: the Adani Green Energy Gallery’ – when it opens later this year. But a major backlash has unfolded with scientists, youth climate activists, museum contributors, Indigenous leaders, teachers and the wider public speaking out.

Now, in a new in-depth investigation, we are revealing disturbing details of how the Science Museum dismissed major controversies surrounding Adani that should have put a stop to the deal. Crucially, it reveals how the museum’s own 12-page due diligence report – a dodgy dossier of wrongdoing by Adani – was never shared with the Board of Trustees, despite the major concerns it raised.

Published in March 2023, ““Science Museum Group: An unravelling tragedy” transforms the evidence identified in the Museum’s own withheld due diligence report into a powerful new photo-book. It was posted to all current and recent Trustees of the Science Museum Group.

Instead, in what appears to be a cynical attempt to find a workaround, the Museum commissioned a new due diligence report a few weeks later just on Adani’s renewable energy division – Adani Green Energy – which then became the “official” sponsor of the new gallery. In reality, the SMG continued to negotiate with the Adani Group and its billionaire owner, while SMG Director Ian Blatchford advocated for Adani both to his own Board and in the media. 

These documents and Due Diligence Reports reveal that the decision to make Adani the title sponsor of the gallery is not a legitimate one because it clearly breaches the principles set out in the Museum’s own Ethics Policy, but the Director pushed ahead with the partnership despite the clear reputational risks. In light of this, the Science Museum should now:

  • Undertake a formal review of its sponsorship agreement with Adani in light of the opposition it has triggered
  • Allocate funds in the short-term to continue with the development of the Gallery and safeguarding any jobs associated with it
  • Identify a new funding source, whether that is from funds already secured or a new sponsor that is more ethically aligned to the Gallery’s aims than a coal-producing conglomerate.

Drawing upon internal emails and documents disclosed following FOI requests, our new investigation reveals:

1. How the sponsorship deal with Adani should never have been agreed

a. What the Science Museum knew. The Museum’s 12-page Due Diligence report should have been enough to scupper the sponsorship deal. The report, which we have analysed here, shines a spotlight on the multiple controversies that the Museum should have taken into account including:

  • Substantial information on the Carmichael Coal Mine, ‘the largest coal mine in Australia, potentially the largest in the world’. It sets out how the mine has faced years of intense criticism by environmental groups for its potential impact on the Great Barrier Reef and groundwater at its site and for its high carbon emissions. It notes multiple legal challenges on environmental grounds, opposition from local traditional owners, details numerous protests and the aggressive ‘attack-dog’ strategy of Adani’s lawyers who were accused of ‘bringing the legal profession into disrepute.’
  • Multiple examples of criminal investigations, fines and litigation against Adani’s activities including several examples of fines for causing significant environmental damage
  • Gautam Adani’s close ties to Prime Minister Modi of India which are ‘criticised as being a source of cronyism and corruption with the Indian government.’
  • Operations in Myanmar being ‘criticised as helping fund crimes against humanity and enriching the individuals behind the persecution of the Rohingya.’
Internal email commissioning Due Diligence Report on the Adani Group, 2nd December 2020
[Due diligence correspondence, p4]

b. What the Science Museum ignored and overlooked. We have identified major gaps and oversights in the Museum’s due diligence reports on both the Adani Group and Adani Green Energy, controversies that were well-documented in the media and in the public domain.

  • There is no mention of the severe climate impacts of Adani’s rapidly-expanding coal extraction and coal-fired power stations, even though their greenhouse gas emissions alone will push human society 7% of the way towards a rise in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees.
  • Astonishingly, the long-running controversy, resistance, legal action and violence associated with Adani’s coal mining activities on Indigenous lands in India is completely overlooked by the report.
  • Controversy around Adani Green Energy’s large-scale takeover of land, excessive water use, pollution and threats to endangered species is also mostly ignored, even though it has led to protests and court actions by the people affected.
  • There is also no mention of Adani’s controversial coal mining operations in Indonesia which have been criticised by local NGOs
  • The due diligence report touches on the huge environmental impacts of Adani’s massive port building project only in terms of mentioning a couple of significant fines the company received. The full picture includes massive loss of fishing resources and fisherfolks’ livelihoods, ecological damage and coastal erosion and has led to significant opposition and protests.
  • No attention is given to the huge controversies in India over Adani’s programme of expansion of coal-fired power stations in recent years which have led to lawsuits, violence and visceral protests.
Opening summary from SMG’s Due Diligence Report on the Adani Group

Two of the issues identified in the SMG’s Due Diligence Report on the Adani Group
Extract from Adani Group Due Diligence Report, Science Museum Group

c. What Adani has done since. The Due Diligence Report on the Adani Group clearly suggests ongoing reputational risks would arise from signing a sponsorship deal with the company – and that’s exactly what has happened. Since the SMG signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Adani in March 2021, there have been many protests against its activities and the company has become embroiled in new controversies, including:

  • announcing a rapid ramp-up of coal production by 58% year on year in India, with the approval of four massive new mines. In Australia, it plans to increase coal shipments through the Great Barrier Reef and is trying to achieve 15 million tonnes of coal exported next year, which ‘may touch 25 million tonnes to 30 million in the next 2-3 years’ time’ making Carmichael the biggest coal mine in Australia. 
  • starting to fell ancient trees in the sacred Hasdeo forest, sparking a significant indefinite protest by Adivasi people. This is after approval was given for the vast Parsa mine, located in forests that are home to thousands of Gond and Oraon Adivasi, and Dalit, people. Besides the destruction of people’s lands and livelihoods, 200,000 trees will be felled. It will produce 5 million tonnes of coal a year over 45 years.
  • late last year in Australia Adani blew up a Wangan and Jagalingou cultural heritage site containing the highest concentration of aboriginal artefacts ever found on Adani’s vast mining lease, despite archaeologists telling Adani the artefact excavation process was rushed and the site was of ‘high cultural and potential scientific significance’
  • causing protests and a court order over Adani Green Energy’s solar developments in Rajasthan amid concerns that the highly endangered Great Indian Bustard could go extinct
Extract from Adani’s ‘Myths v facts’ fact sheet on its Carmichael Mine which was sent to the SMG on 2nd April 2021. Adani has subsequently announced that, beyond stage one, the mine could produce 25-30 million tonnes of coal making it the largest coal mine in Australia.

2. How the Director dismissed the Due Diligence Report and forged ahead

a. Internal emails and progress reports reveal that the Museum’s Director quickly dismissed the controversies set out in the Due Diligence Report on Adani, despite emails suggesting that it was escalated to him as a cause for concern and required further discussion. Just 32 minutes after the report was referred to him, Director Ian Blatchford emailed a representative of the Adani Group to move ahead with negotiations and, a few hours after receiving the document communicated to his staff he was happy to proceed with the relationship.

Staff email to Director Ian Blatchford referring Due Diligence Report on Adani Group
[Due diligence correspondence, p2]

b. Blatchford presented the Adani deal to the Board of Trustees almost as a ‘fait accompli’ – the Museum had, in fact, attempted to finalise a Memorandum of Understanding with Adani before the Board meeting, despite being fully aware of the climate impacts of its major coal extraction projects. Blatchford claimed that the Board supported the decision although it later emerged that several trustees had raised objections.

c. The SMG’s own Code of Ethics says that it, ‘Will not seek or accept donations, sponsorship or grants where acceptance of these funds would damage its effective operation, including… Material damage to the reputation, independence or integrity of SMG’. And yet reputational risks have been dismissed and disregarded at every turn, from the catalogue of controversies itemised in the Due Diligence reports to objections raised by the SMG’s own trustees, and repeated flagging of significant reputational risks in internal progress reports to the scientists, youth climate activists and Indigenous people that have now spoken out. 

Extract from an internal SMG presentation on ‘Gallery content’ identifying risk of ‘negative reactions to sponsor’

3. How the Museum rebranded the sponsorship to ‘Adani Green Energy’ in what appears to have been a cosmetic exercise to dodge controversy

a. Internal documents shed light on how the Museum rebranded the sponsorship to just one of the Adani Group’s six subsidiaries – Adani Green Energy – in an apparent attempt to distance itself from the controversies and climate impacts of the wider Adani Group. Just weeks after that 12-page Due Diligence Report on the Adani Group was put together, a new report – containing just the material on Adani Green Energy – was turned around in a day and some major controversies were left out. But there is no evidence of this external rebrand having any internal impact on the negotiations taking place with the Adani Group. Even when the proposal is presented to the Board two weeks later, Ian Blatchford makes no secret of the fact that Adani Group is a single corporate entity – and simply refers to Adani Green Energy as the ‘renewables division’.

b. By rebranding the sponsorship in this way, the Museum is both attempting to dodge controversy and helping to ‘greenwash’ the Adani brand. ‘Energy Revolution: the Adani Green Energy Gallery’ centres Adani’s renewables division over the rest of the Adani Group, which is continuing to produce huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, notably from its involvement in coal mining and power stations. Early in the negotiations, the SMG pitched to the Adani Group that sponsorship of the new gallery would represent the ‘strongest global profiling opportunity’ and allow a company that is rapidly expanding its coal extraction ‘to showcase its leadership in the energy transition’. Crucially, key emails on how the decision to use the Adani Green Energy name for the sponsorship was taken appear to have been left out of the Museum’s response to our FOI requests.

Email from senior staff member at the SMG to Adani Group, 2nd December
[Correspondence with Adani to 8th Jan 2021, p4]

c. The announcement of the sponsorship was carefully timed to coincide with the government’s ‘Global Investment Summit’ – hosted at the Science Museum in the week before COP26 – and where Gautam Adani met with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This further helped the Adani Group to promote the ‘Adani Green’ brand and the misleading narrative that it is leading the energy transition away from fossil fuels. And just weeks ago, the Prime Minister met Gautam Adani a second time during his visit to India, where Adani announced new collaborations with UK businesses.

Gautam Adani tweets after meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the Global Investment Summit taking place in the Science Museum in London
Gautam Adani tweets after meeting Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Adani Headquarters during his tour of India

4. The Adani deal isn’t legitimate and should be dropped

Today, the Science Museum has already begun the process of transforming its climate science gallery ‘Atmosphere’ into the new ‘Energy Revolution: Adani Green Energy Gallery’, set to open in November 2023. But, as these documents and due diligence reports have revealed, the decision to make Adani the title sponsor of the gallery is not a legitimate one as it clearly breaches the principles set out in the Museum’s own Ethics Policy.

The scale of the due diligence report on Adani was a clear and undeniable signal that accepting sponsorship from Adani would cause material damage to the Museum’s reputation and operation and this is exactly what has happened.

  • Two trustees have resigned from the Board
  • Many contributors have refused to work with the museum again until it shifts its stance
  • Representatives of Indigenous people have called on the Director to listen to their concerns and drop Adani as a sponsor
  • Young people and scientists have repeatedly spoken out and protested

The Science Museum should now:

  • Undertake a formal review of its sponsorship agreement with Adani in light of the opposition it has triggered
  • Allocate funds in the short-term to continue with the development of the Gallery and safeguarding any jobs associated with it
  • Identify a new funding source, whether that is from funds already secured or a new sponsor that is more ethically aligned to the Gallery’s aims than a coal-producing conglomerate.

Young people, scientists and Indigenous people have sent a clear message to the Science Museum: it should end its association with Adani before the new gallery opens.