Abstract: Imperialism, Employment, and Racial Discrimination: The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, 1933-1951

Neveen Abdelrehim, Josephine Maltby, and Steven Toms


By the mid-twentieth century, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) had become a large British multinational that was held to consider Iran as its "own town." It was a very common complaint that members of the British staff of the company treated their Iranian colleagues and subordinates as racial inferiors, and Iranians of all grades, from workmen up to senior staff, including UK graduates, claimed to have experienced insults on the grounds of nationality from British staff. This paper addresses the claims by the Iranians against the AIOC and the company's counter-claims, and the tactical methods adopted by the AIOC management, including the management of information. The paper draws on a wide range of archival evidence from various historical sources such as the Iranian Press "ITTILA'AT," UK Press, archival records of correspondence between the chairman and various diplomats, and the AIOC annual reports. Specifically, it contrasts the pronouncements of the AIOC in public documents such as the Annual Reports with private views reflected in correspondence and third party evidence, allowing an objective assessment of the extent of Iranianization ahead of the political crisis of 1951. The analysis shows that the AIOC was discriminatory toward Iranians, reflecting a negative attitude to their technical potential as well as traditional colonial stereotyping. More important, the AIOC resisted Iranianization because the redistribution of employment in favor of Iranians, including at the senior level, threatened to compromise the control of the business. It was this point that was most strenuously resisted by the AIOC negotiators. The company was more willing to compromise on other aspects that were less threatening to overall control, for example on housing and health care. These concessions were insufficient to forestall the ensuing nationalization crisis, which after all, was all about the crucial question of control of the oil fields.