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Re: Shell Response to UK Guardian article
Here's the Guardian article: "Unloveable Shell."
Copyright 1997 Guardian Newspapers Limited
The Guardian (London)
November 15, 1997
SECTION: The Guardian Features Page; Pg. 23
HEADLINE: Unloveable Shell, the goddess of oil; For a century, Shell has
explored the Earth to make our lives more comfortable. But in its wake,
says Andrew Rowell, lies
BYLINE: ANDREW ROWELL,
THE QUEEN and the Duke of Edinburgh went to the Shell Centre on the
Thames riverside near Waterloo last Tuesday, to crown the company's
centenary celebrations. Critics claim the timing of the Queen's visit was
slightly unfortunate: it came just one day after the second anniversary of
Ken Saro-Wiwa's death in Nigeria: he was campaigning against Shell's oil
exploitation in the region.
The Shell Transport and Trading Company (STTC) has risen from its
humble roots in a cramped office in the East End to become one of the most
successful corporations of the century. What we collectively know as
"Shell" is in fact more than 2,000 companies. Last year, the Shell Group's
profit was a record pounds 5.7 billion, the proceeds from sales of pounds
110 billion. "Were our founder, Marcus Samuel, to reappear today, I do not
think he would be displeased with what has grown from his efforts," says
Mark Moody-Stuart, STTC's chairman.
As part of the centenary celebrations, the cream of the City were
invited to a reception at the Guildhall. There is also to be a
commemorative book. Whilst it may mention the Shell Better Britain
Campaign, and even the controversy over Brent Spar, not everyone will
agree with the authorised biography's version of Shell's history. Here is
a less authorised approach.
After it merged in 1907 with its rival Royal Dutch, the Royal Dutch
Shell company was formed; its first chairman was the Dutchman Henri
Deterding. By the 1930s, Deterding had become infatuated with Adolf
Hitler, and began secret negotiations with the German military to provide
a year's supply of oil on credit. In 1936, he was forced to resign over
his Nazi sympathies.
During the early 1940s, as the world waged war, Peru and Ecuador had
their own armed border-dispute - over oil. Legend in Latin America says
that it was really a power struggle between Shell, based in Ecuador, and
Standard Oil in Peru. The company left a lasting reminder of its presence
in the country: a town called Shell. Activists in Ecuador are seeking to
get the town renamed Saro-Wiwa.
In the post-war years, Shell manufactured pesticides and herbicides on
a site previously used by the US military to make nerve gas at Rocky
Mountain near Denver. By 1960 a game warden from the Colorado Department
of Fish and Game had documented abnormal behaviour in the local wildlife,
and took his concerns to Shell, who replied: "That's just the cost of
doing business if we are killing a few birds out there. As far as we are
concerned, this situation is all right."
But the truth was different. "By 1956 Shell knew it had a major
problem on its hands," recalled Adam Raphael in the Observer in 1993. "It
was the company's policy to collect all duck and animal carcasses in order
to hide them before scheduled visits by inspectors from the Colorado
Department of Fish and Game." After operations ceased in 1982, the site
was among the most contaminated places on the planet, although Shell is
now trying to make it into a nature reserve.
At Rocky Mountain, Shell produced three highly toxic and persistent
pesticides called the "drins": aldrin, dieldrin and endrin. Despite four
decades of warning over their use, starting in the 1950s, Shell only
stopped production of endrin in 1982, of dieldrin in 1987 and aldrin in
1990, and only ceased sales of the three in 1991. Even after production
was stopped, stocks of drins were shipped to the Third World.
Another chemical Shell began manufacturing in the 1950s was DBCP, or
1,2 -Dibromo-3-Chloropropane, which was used to spray bananas. This was
banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1977 for causing
sterility in workers. In 1990, Costa Rican workers who had become sterile
from working with the chemical sued Shell and two other companies in the
Texan Courts. Shell denied that it ever exported the chemical to Costa
Rica and denied that it exported it to any other country after the ban in
1977. The case was settled out of court.
Just as people had begun to question Shell's products, so they began
to challenge its practices. In the 1970s and 1980s, Shell was accused of
breaking the UN oil boycott of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) by using its South
African subsidiary and other companies in which it had interests. Shell,
singled out by anti-apartheid campaigners for providing fuel to the
notoriously brutal South African army and police, responded by hiring a PR
firm to run an anti-boycott campaign.
BY THE 1980s criticism of Shell's operations was spreading. From Inuit
in Canada and Alaska, to Aborigines in Australia and Indians in Brazil,
indigenous communities were affected by Shell's operations. In the
Peruvian rainforest, where Shell conducted exploration activities, an
estimated 100 hitherto uncontacted Nahua Indians died after catching
diseases to which they had no immunity. Shell denies responsibility, and
says that it was loggers who contacted the Nahua.
By the end of the decade, the company's image was suffering in the US
and UK, too. In April 1988, 440,000 gallons of oil was discharged into San
Francisco Bay from the company's Martinez refinery, killing hundreds of
birds. The following year, Shell spilt 150 tons of thick crude into the
River Mersey, and was fined a record pounds 1 million.
But by now, the company was responding to growing international
environmental awareness. "The biggest challenge facing the energy industry
is the global environment and global warming," said Sir John Collins, head
of Shell UK, in 1990. "The possible consequences of man-made global
warming are so worrying that concerted international action is clearly
Shell joined the Global Climate Coalition, which has spent tens of
millions of dollars trying to influence the UN climate negotiations that
culminate in Kyoto next month. "There is no clear scientific consensus
that man-induced climate change is happening now," the lobbyists maintain,
two years after the world's leading scientists agreed that there was.
At the same time, the company has taken its own preventive action on
climate change and possible sea-level rise by increasing the height of its
Troll platform in the North Sea by one metre.
By 1993, as Shell's spin-doctors were teaching budding executives that
"ignorance gets corporations into trouble, arrogance keeps them there",
300,000 Ogoni peacefully protested against Shell's operations in Nigeria.
Since then 2,000 have been butchered, and countless others raped and
tortured by the Nigerian military. In the summer of 1995 there was the
outcry over the planned deep-sea sinking of the redundant oil platform
Brent Spar, and in November Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed,
having been framed by the Nigerian authorities. At the time Shell denied
any financial relationship with the Nigerian military, but has since
admitted paying them "field allowances" on occasion.
This year in Nigeria, the three-million-strong Ijaw community started
campaigning against Shell, leading to another military crackdown. "The
military governor says it is for the purpose of protecting the oil
companies. The authorities can no longer afford to sit by and have the
communities mobilise against the companies. It is Ogoni revisited," says
Uche Onyeagucha, representing the opposition Democratic Alternative.
In Peru, Shell has returned to the rainforest. It acknowledges "the
need to consider environmental sustainability and responsibility to the
people involved", but the move is still criticised by more than 60
international and local environmental, human-rights and indigenous groups.
"Shell has not learnt from its tragic mistakes," says Shannon Wright from
the Rainforest Action Network, which believes there should be no new
fossil-fuel exploration in the rainforest: "They continue to go into areas
where there are indigenous people who are susceptible to outside
Meanwhile, Shell publicly talks of engaging "stakeholders". It hopes
that we, as consumers, will continue to give it a licence to operate.
However, for each barrel produced, the ecological and cultural price
increases exponentially. Everyone knows we need to reduce our consumption
of oil: but Shell's very existence depends on selling more of it. Senior
executives are said to be "girding our loins for our second century"
because "the importance of oil and gas is likely to increase rather than
diminish as we enter the 21st century". Can we let that happen?
THIS WEEK'S essayist, Andrew Rowell, is a freelance environmental
consultant who has written extensively on the oil industry. He is author
of Green Backlash - Global Subversion Of The Environmental Movement
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