'Tell Lord Browne that we are coming'

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The Independent Online

Lord Browne of Madingley, the chief executive of BP, is being targeted by a radical US investment fund that attacks businessmen it believes are selling out to the environmental lobby.

The Free Enterprise Action Fund is taking stakes in the world's biggest multinationals and harassing chief executives about "green" policies it believes destroy shareholder value.

The Washington DC-based outfit has already targeted Goldman Sachs over the environmental work of chief executive Hank Paulson. The fund claims his stance is not in shareholders' interests. Steven Milloy, the fund manager who founded the business, said: "BP has an advertising campaign asking people what their carbon footprint is. Its chief executive needs to spend more time worrying about shareholders and less about green PR. You can tell Lord Browne we are coming for him."

The fund's argument is that advocates of corporate social responsibility are bad for business while failing, in any case, to promote steps that would actually protect the environment.Mr Milloy believes that adopting green policies often just denies the poor access to the economic growth that could free them from poverty. It disputes the very existence of global warming and claims free enterprise is under attack from activists who simply hate the idea of a modern corporation.

The fund has about $6m (£4m) under management at the moment but claims to be growing fast. It is supported by a network of right-wing think-tanks including the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. Last month it fired off letters to General Electric, claiming the chief executive Jeff Immelt was, in effect, lobbying to lower GE's profits.

By taking even very small stakes in huge companies, the Free Enterprise fund gets the right to attend annual meetings and put proposals to a vote of shareholders. Although the fund mainly targets US companies listed in the S&P 500, it plans to expand into Europe once it has assembled enough investors.

Lord Browne, who is also on the Goldman Sachs board, seems to provoke particular ire due to his remarks on the need to drill for oil responsibly.

Last week Mr Paulson moved $100m (£60m) in shares to a charitable foundation he established to donate to environmental causes. He still holds Goldman stock worth more than $500m. He is chairman of the Board of Nature Conservancy, an "environmental activist group" according to The Free Enterprise Action Fund.

A spokesman for Goldman Sachs said: "The Free Enterprise Action Fund and their friends seem to have a rather extreme point of view. We fundamentally disagree with their analysis and conclusions, but respect their right to make their argument."

A spokesman for BP said: "Any BP shareholder is entitled to bring up any issues they are concerned about and discuss them openly. No company in the oil and gas industry can fail to recognise that as the demand for our product rises, so to does the risk that the use of our products will contribute to environmental challenges."