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Royal Dutch Shell Pension Fund Machinations

22 December 2008

By John Donovan

On 12 December news surfaced that the Dutch pension fund of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is heavily in deficit, with a 40% plunge in value as a result of share market turmoil. A $45 million exposure to the “Madoff” fraud was revealed a few days later following speculation surrounding the stability of the Shell Dutch pension fund.

Reuters reported that Shell would need around 2 billion euros ($2.65 billion) to return the fund to within Dutch legal requirements. The Shell Dutch pension fund must submit a recovery plan to the Dutch regulator indicating how it will, within a period of 3 years, be able to eliminate the deficit.  

Shell also admitted the $45 million exposure to the $50 billion “Madoff” fraud – the biggest fraud in history, eclipsing even Shell’s own massive securities fraud revealed in January 2004, when management deliberately fooled the stock markets by overstating Shell’s hydrocarbon reserves. Top executives of Shell, including the Group Chairman, Sir Phillip Watts, were forced to resign in disgrace.

News of the latest debacle made global headlines after I published on my website royaldutchshellplc.com, a letter to Shell Dutch pensioners from the Shell Dutch pension fund.  Many news organisations, including Reuters, the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune, kindly acknowledged our role in breaking the story.

Reuters Report

Richard Wiseman, the Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc ignored emails I sent to him on the matter and on related ethical issues raised by Shell pensioners including a former Shell executive, Paddy Briggs. Paddy regularly writes informative, insightful and impartial articles about Shell, including his recent article entitled “Shell pensioner poverty”. 

Paddy had a long distinguished career with Shell, which included a leadership role in the world’s largest re-imaging programme at over 38,000 Shell stations worldwide.

It is notable that Mr Wiseman has been willing to talk about himself in recent email correspondence with me, but not about the plight of Shell pensioners. That position does not strike me as being ethical, or in compliance with Shell’s claimed business principles, which include honesty and transparency. If Shell management practised what it preaches, there would have been no reserves fraud. In other words the claimed principles are themselves a fraud.

Neither is there anything new about Shell playing fast and loose with employee retirement\severance funds, as is evident from earlier articles authored by me.

Angry Shell Ethiopia employees accuse Shell of discrimination and infringement of human rights

Shell employees in Africa protest against being “sold” by Shell

The latter article also included news of Shell’s appalling treatment of its employees in Malaysia and Sudan.

There was a happy outcome to the claim brought against Shell by its Ethiopian employees.

Shell Ethiopia employees express thanks for help in settlement of dispute

It is not much more than a year ago that Shell decided to take a “pensions holiday” in relation to the retirement fund for its UK pensioners. There were signs of definite concern expressed by the journalists who authored BBC and Daily Telegraph news reports. 

The BBC report pointed out “Pension breaks were popular in the 1990s when schemes appeared to be well-funded, but the 2001 stock market crash left many funds in the red

The Telegraph article said “Contribution holidays were widespread until the stock market falls early this decade hit investments and plunged many schemes into deficit“.

With unfortunate timing, the Shell pension fund trustees took a break from making contributions not long before the advent what has been described as the biggest global financial crisis since the Great Depression. 

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