NGOs claim Total CEO abused role on top university’s board

NGOs say the CEO's actions could amount to a conflict of interest. [Mimpki]

NGOs and the Ecole Polytechnique’s student association have filed a complaint against Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné alleging he abused his role on the university’s board. EURACTIV France reports.

In June 2020, the prestigious engineering school gave the green light to Total to construct a building on its campus dedicated to research and development that would house researchers and students.

However, plaintiffs including Greenpeace France, Anticor, and the Polytechnique student’s association Sphinx, say Pouyanné’s role on the board of directors of the Ecole Polytechnique is problematic.

According to the NGOs and the student association, the CEO’s actions could amount to a conflict of interest.

“Patrick Pouyanné spoke at the board meeting on behalf of Total to express the company’s opinion on the project and its very clear preferences regarding the location, the speed of completion, and the refusal to abandon the project despite the protest by students and professors,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

In 2019, 61% of students at the university’s campus voted against the building’s location, which was considered too close to living quarters.

According to Greenpeace, Total is, as part of its “influence strategy”, trying to get closer to young people who are increasingly losing interest in working for the fossil fuel and oil industry.

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Greening its image 

This is not the first time Total has tried to improve its image.

The company announced in May of last year that it will commit to becoming more environmentally friendly and, to be “in line with the EU’s carbon neutrality objective”, become “a net-zero emissions company in Europe by 2050.”

To achieve this, the oil giant has set several objectives, including the development of renewables and committing to producing less oil.

At the time, Greenpeace denounced this as a “smokescreen”, pointing out that Total was “only going to comply with the European Green Deal, which includes the objective of carbon neutrality by 2050”, adding that “60% of the oil company’s emissions are outside Europe”.

On 9 February, Total’s CEO told his employees he wanted to change the name of the company to TotalEnergie. Pouyanné said the new name “explicitly marks what we want to be: a leader in serving a world with more energy and fewer emissions, the responsible energy company”.

Total told Reuters that it was not aware of the content of the complaint and was therefore not in a position to react or comment on it.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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