Home » Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS’s “dirty” environmental reputation amidst Manchester United takeover

Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS’s “dirty” environmental reputation amidst Manchester United takeover

by Derick Kinoti
Sir Jim Ratcliffe

As the takeover process of Manchester United rages on with interested parties gearing up to go toe-to-toe with each other for one of Europe’s prized jewels, several questions and areas of concern have emerged regarding some of the prospective buyers.

Qatar’s bid, spearheaded by Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, has generated controversy within the media, with the country’s track record on human rights being challenged.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe, one of Britain’s richest people and chairman of petrochemical giant INEOS, also tabled his proposal to complete a majority takeover of Manchester United – a bid that like Qatar’s has invited fierce backlash, this time from environmentalists and campaigners who have called into question INEOS’s record on environmental matters.

INEOS is the world’s fourth-largest chemical company globally, boasting 194 sites across 29 countries, and revenue margins of up to $65billion a year.

The London-based corporation produces a wide range of chemical and oil-derived products used across a multitude of everyday-life applications.

Beyond large-scale manufacturing and production, INEOS is also an active investor in sports ventures. Ratcliffe is the proud owner of major cycling and sailing teams and a principle partner in the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One team.

INEOS also owns France’s OGC Nice and Switzerland’s Lausanne-Sport.

INEOS’ environmental record

The nature and sheer scale of INEOS’ day-to-day operations mean that the company is one of the world’s largest consumers of fossil fuels and subsequently a major generator of greenhouse emissions.

The Athletic reports, “The company’s oil, chemical and power plants at Grangemouth in Scotland produced over 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2019, making the company the largest source of emissions in the country.”

“A report by the non-governmental organisation Food and Water Watch and Food and Water Action Europe points to a major fire at INEOS’ facility in Cologne in 2008, as well as an oil leak in Norway, chemical leaks in France, controversies over chemical dumping in Italy and the release of toxic gas which resulted in the hospitalisation of workers in Belgium.”

In the report, the contents of which are detailed by The Athletic, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, brands INEOS’s environmental record as “appalling.”

Hauter adds that INEOS is a climate disaster waiting to happen.

As per the report, “Between 2014 and 2017, 12 of the company’s 14 plants in one US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) database were failing to comply with a major environmental regulation for at least one three-month period.”

Compound these damning revelations with the public fact that Ratcliffe is an open supporter of fracking and it’s easy to see why environmental lobbyists are up in arms over his bid to take over the reins at Old Trafford.

These accusations against Ratcliffe and INEOS are being levelled at a time when Premier League clubs are endeavouring to reduce their carbon footprint.

Teams are being encouraged to reduce the use of planes when making short away trips to rival grounds and instead make use of alternative means of transportation.

On where the Red Devils stand specifically on the matter, the club has an official environmental policy on its website which reads, “Manchester United recognises its responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy environment and will endeavour to maintain sound environmental performance through our ISO14001 environmental management system.”

“As a world-class sporting business, we have a strong relationship with both our commercial partners and our supporters. We will look for ways in which we can leverage our position to influence their environmental activities and encourage them to help us to improve our environmental performance.”

United’s environmental policy also contains a commitment to reduce the amount of waste produced, minimize the use of non-renewable materials and oversee an improvement of the institution’s recycling rates.

Environmentalists’ “sports-washing” worries

Groups tasked with the preservation of the environment are of the opinion that should Ratcliffe’s bid to buy United prove successful, this would represent a concerted effort to sport wash his “dirty” business.

Matt Woosnam describes sports washing as, “The practice when an organisation that is involved in controversial practices tries to make itself appear more respectable by becoming involved in sports.”

The major worry is that if INEOS becomes the primary administrator of a club of United’s standing and calibre, its sports washing campaign would be elevated to another level.

Dale Vince, the owner of green energy company Ecotricity and League One club Forest Green Rovers insists that INEOS’ poor environmental record should automatically rule Ratcliffe out of the race to buy Manchester United.

Vince told The Athletic, “Ratcliffe in my view should not be allowed to own a Premier League club, in the same way that oil states should not. I don’t expect he will be prevented from taking ownership though.”

“Foreign nationals and entities should not be allowed to own English clubs. There’s a tax issue at the heart of this — does Ratcliffe reside in and pay tax in the UK? The various oil funds and states (which are involved in other Premier League clubs) don’t.”

Vince was adamant that environmental issues like integrity and ethical matters should be at the heart of the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors’ Test.

Frida Kieninger, the Director of EU Affairs at Food & Water Action Europe strongly agrees with Vince’s sentiments.

She opines, “We don’t know how an INEOS takeover will affect Manchester United’s play, but one thing is for sure: leaving the future up to dirty companies like INEOS will result in a clear loss for people and the planet.”

“Companies with this amount of clout have integrated themselves into mainstream culture — sponsoring sports teams and global tournaments, and in INEOS’ case, facilitating world records.”

“But this practice, considered by some as ‘sportswashing’, gives social licence to companies that are often responsible for driving climate change, nature damage and serious threats to human health. Exposure to plastics can disrupt hormone systems in humans and damage fertility.”

The Peoples Person reported last month that Greenpeace, an independent environmental campaigning organisation issued a statement urging United’s club executives not to accept Ratcliffe’s proposal.

The overwhelming consensus between environmental experts is that a future in which INEOS has control at the Theatre of Dreams would effectively set back football’s attempts to make a shift towards green energy. Such is the influence and sway held by the 20-time English champions.

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