UPDATE: BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has apologized for referring to the victims of the Gulf oil spill as “small people.”
“I spoke clumsily this afternoon and for that I am very sorry,” Svanberg said in a statement, after remarks he made following a White House meeting with President Barack Obama earlier on Wednesday drew widespread ridicule and condemnation.
“What I was trying to say — that BP understands how deeply this affects the lives of people who live along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood — will best be conveyed not by any words but by the work we do to put things right for the families and businesses who’ve been hurt,” Svanberg said.
ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS BELOW
WASHINGTON Ã¢â‚¬â€ BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said Wednesday the British energy giant cared about the fate of the “small people” hit by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, vowing to look after all affected.
Emerging from White House talks with President Barack Obama, Svanberg said the British energy giant had “always met our obligations and responsibilities.”
“We have made clear from the first moment of this tragedy that we will live up to all our legitimate responsibilities,” Svanberg said, adding all claims for compensation would be met “swiftly and fairly.”
“We will look after the people affected, and we will repair the damage to this region, the environmental damage to this region and to the economy,” he added.
Obama said he had urged the BP bosses to remember when they were meeting in the boardroom to “keep in mind those individuals, that they are desperate, may lose business that have been in their families for two or three generations.”
Svanberg agreed, saying: “We care about the small people.”
“English is a second language for Svanberg, who is Swedish, but reporters took note of his demeaning phrasing, and shouted questions about what he meant after he spoke, which he did not answer,” The Huffington Post reported.
However, in Swedish, the words are very similar: “small” is translated as “smÃƒÂ¥.”
In a column called “The ‘small people’ ask, ‘WTF?’” NBC News notes, “Reaction has been swift to BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s declaration that BP cares about ‘the small people.’ And folks aren’t cutting the Swedish-born executive any slack for trying to speak colloquially in a second language.”
The Field Notes blog includes a few angry Tweets, including one from NBC News reporter Luke Russert: “Somebody please make T-shirts that say: ‘BP: ‘We care about the small people.’ Carl-Henric Svanberg 6/16/10.’ I’ll buy the first one.”
The Huffington Post tweeted, “thought tony hayward was bad? BP: ‘Small People’ Matter To Us, Chairman Says”
Another twitter poster, Joni Thorne, asked, “And what is this nonsense ‘SMALL people’ mattering to #BP . How condescending is that?”
This video is from MSNBC’s News Live, broadcast June 16, 2010.
(with additional reporting by RAW STORY)