"We've decided to get rid of our shares in BP in line with our constant review of our investments," said Anita Neville, head of advocacy at WWF-UK. "We've been seeing increasing evidence from BP that it no longer deserves the best of sector title."
WWF-UK is particularly dismayed by BP's stance on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The charity wants the company to pledge never to drill in the protected zone and to improve safety standards following a series of oil well blasts that have seriously injured several workers.
WWF-UK's BP shareholding is worth around £200,000. To Britain's biggest company with a market capitalisation of more than £120 billion, the money is of negligible consequence. But the loss of WWF-UK's stamp of approval has far wider repercussions for a company keen to present a more ecological front.
"We hope it will send a strong symbolic message that a line has been crossed," said Neville. "It's about what we as an organisation are prepared to do and how quickly we are empowered to act on what we see as unacceptable practice."
The charity had previously defended its relationship with the company by claiming that its position as shareholder enabled it to influence company policy from within. The move calls into question the future of the partnership.
BP finances a £1 million WWF-UK programme in China but it is doubtful that further funding will be extended beyond this year.
"We're not aware of any other approaches from us to BP or vice versa that would extend our fundraising partnership," said Neville.
WWF-UK also holds shares in Shell because of the joint best of sector position the company holds with BP. The charity stresses, however, that it will not be reinvesting its BP shares in Shell or any other oil company.
Neville refused to rule out future relations with BP. "We've found the relationship with BP to be immensely productive and we're never going to cut off our nose to spite our face and close all doors to future negotiation," she said. "Hopefully our action, and that of other investors, will encourage BP to lift its game again."
WWF-UK claims its relationship with BP has enabled it to lobby the company on a range of environmental issues, such as pressuring investors to secure improvements in marine policies.
BP said it was unaware of the proposed share dealing. A spokesperson said: "We have had no communication from WWF-UK on this matter and consequently have no comment to make."