The Reverend Jesse Jackson, the veteran civil rights leader, has called on African Americans to boycott BP over its record on equality.
The campaigner has set out plans to picket some of the oil giant's 12,000 petrol stations across the US because the company has so few ethnic minority- owned distributors.
And he is tying the campaign to outrage over the high oil price. This has pushed up energy costs, which, he claims, fall disproportionately on urban residents, including many African Americans.
"We need to drive down the price of gas. We need to stop the exploitation and the environmental degradation. And we need to stop the pattern of racial discrimination," said Rev Jackson, speaking by telephone from a BP forecourt in Los Angeles.
Rev Jackson is beginning his protest with pickets in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York, but says he has plans to enlist allies in the UK to organise demonstrations against BP petrol stations in London. He has also challenged Lord Browne of Madingley, BP's chief executive, to meet him to discuss ways of improving the diversity of the company's distributor base.
BP uses more than 600 US distributors which transport oil and operate petrol stations under the company's logo. Not one is owned by an African American.
"BP has the largest share of the African American market, yet its pattern of discrimination amounts to a virtual lock-out of African American businesses and consumers. They want our business but don't want to do business with us. If they won't invest in us, we won't invest in them," said Rev Jackson.
A spokesman for BP in the US said the company would be happy to use an African American-owned distributor if it could find one that fits its criteria. He added that 1,800 of its 12,000 petrol stations are owned by smaller, independent franchisees, 25 per cent of which are from ethnic minorities.
The spokesman also disputed Rev Jackson's claim that it has no African American senior managers, and pointed out that two of its non-executive board members - Erroll Davis and Walter Matthey - are African Americans.
"BP is committed to diversity in the workplace, from the corner gas station to the corporate boardroom," he added.
BP made profits of $5.3bn (ú2.9bn) in the first three months of 2006, thanks largely to soaring oil prices. These have sent the price of petrol in the US over the psychologically important $3 per gallon mark.
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