So it’s happened EDF has climbed down from its planned £5m lawsuit against climate protestors who occupied its West Burton gas plant after an online campaign against them garnered 60,000 signatures.
In all it’s been one of the biggest PR blunders I can think of in the energy sector, a headline writer’s dream and a rallying call to cash-in on the anti-energy company sentiment that hardly needed fuelling! Yes the protestors were wrong to occupy the plant and of course it was potentially dangerous and of course it cost EDF money, perhaps a lot of money but was it really worth all the negative publicity to go after them and to sue a few climate protestors?
After all EDF (in the UK) turned over more than £8bn last year, what on earth was it doing trying to sue for such a paltry sum in relationship to its profit margin and conversely such a staggering figure to any of us as individuals. Do you have £5m in your back pocket to pay up?
Whomever advised the top brass at EDF made a very sorry mistake. Imagine the conversation in the boardroom – “We should sue those greenos and that will show em, the public are on our side and it’s clear most people think they are lazy freeloaders” – “excellent idea how much?” – “£5m should do it!”
Brilliant. What wasn’t considered is the fact society may well not like climate protestors infact we never have but the moment we see big corporations or government trying to bully them, something shifts in our collective conscience – remember Swampy back in the 90s protesting against the Newbury bypass? He became a cult hero on chat shows everywhere, I remember interviewing him for BBC news and literally we had to book a slot with his impromptu PR agent!
All this when tweeting was what birds did and Google hadn’t been invented! So imagine the stupidity of trying to sue these protestors in the digital age where an online campaign can be started on a smartphone and reach millions in an instant. The launch of the EDF*OFF website and the sheer venom directed against EDF was palpable, the site even created a video showing EDF as nasty suited bullies. All of this was unavoidable.
The protestors handed themselves in and will be facing prosecution in the courts and possibly jail sentences. Yes they made a point but a lot of people would have been angry at the waste of public funds in policing their protest, EDF could have got away with being seen as the wronged party which dealt with the whole protest with dignity and patience. Instead it now looks like the corporate boot boy giving the little person a kicking.
After the huge success of their sponsorship of the Olympics, the launch of that witty little Zingy character in the TV adverts that kids love and all the good work they do supporting sporting and educational causes, this one act of corporate ineptitude has undone so much. I wouldn’t be surprised if the climate protestors are soon doing interviews and the possibility of jail will mean the media will soon have them in their sights.
EDF will now forever be tainted as picking on the “little people who care for the planet” a tag they could so easily have done without. Instead now they will have to embark on another PR campaign to regain public confidence, all this at a time where public dislike for energy companies is at an all time high.
As Carter Burke, the corporate nasty in Aliens says to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley when accused of sending colonists to their death on LV426: “It was a bad call Ripley, a bad call.” Too right.