By John Donovan
Printed below is a self-explanatory email I sent last Thursday to Mr Richard Wiseman, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. Mr Wiseman is normally willing to comment on any subject which comes within his realm of responsibility. Bearing in mind that he is usually an efficient senior official of the company, it seems safe to assume that on this occasion, he does not intend to reply.
Mr Wiseman has apparently chosen to remain silent on the subject of Shell’s ethical rating. If I was in his job, representing a multinational with such a shamefully low ethical rating, I might also be reticent in facing up to the truth. If Mr Wiseman does decide to comment, then I will of course publish on an unedited basis whatever he has to say.
I copied the email to Paddy Briggs, the former Shell executive who unlike Mr Wiseman, received an acknowledgement of his contribution to Shell in the official history of the Royal Dutch Shell Group: “A CENTURY IN OIL”
The email response from Paddy is also printed below, with a couple of corrections authorised by Paddy.
EMAIL FROM JOHN DONOVAN TO RICHARD WISEMAN, CHIEF ETHICS & COMPLIANCE OFFICER, ROYAL DUTCH SHELL PLC
From: John Donovan <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, 05 Feb 2009 15:14:27 +0000
Cc: Paddy Briggs <[email protected]>
Conversation: Ethical Rating of Shell
Subject: Ethical Rating of Shell
Dear Mr Wiseman
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. This email replaces the version sent earlier.
Are you prepared to comment on the Covalence Ethical Ranking 2008?
Geneva-based Covalence published on 20 January 2009 its annual ethical ranking covering 541 multinationals. According to information on their website Covalence s ethical quotation system is a reputation index based on quantifying qualitative data, which is classified according to 45 criteria such as Labour standards, Waste management, Product social utility or Human rights policy. It is a barometer of how multinationals are perceived in the ethical field.
In the unlikely event that you are unaware of the rankings, you can view them on the following webpage by selecting Detailed Results.
I note that by comparison, BP is ranked on the same basis at a more respectable 145 despite all of its travails, including the adverse publicity repercussions of the pipeline problems in Alaska, the Texas City Refinery disaster and the circumstances of Lord Brownes sudden departure from the company.
I have copied this email to former Shell Executive Paddy Briggs because I am sure that with his vast experience in brand reputation matters, he is far more capable of analysing and commenting on the rankings relating to Shell (if he has the time to spare).
I would also welcome your comments in defence of Shells reputation. It would appear that you are faced with a considerable challenge in trying to restore Shells ethical standing, which according to Covalence findings, is almost at rock bottom.
I received your automated response to the earlier version of this email and look forward to a formal response on Monday when you return to your office.
EMAIL COMMENT RECEIVED FROM FORMER ROYAL DUTCH SHELL EXECUTIVE, MR PADDY BRIGGS
On 05/02/2009 14:29, “paddybriggs” <[email protected]> wrote:
Thanks for copying in me to this communication it will be interesting to see Shells response.
In my various writings, speeches etc I have rarely been critical of Shells actual business behaviour there are others far more expert than me to judge them on such matters as Health, Safety, Environment etc.
Where I do feel qualified to speak is in respect of Shells communications activities particularly corporate communications. These often relate to the much promoted (by them) Shell commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and their self-promoting statements that they have a triple bottom line. These communications have been mind-blowingly disingenuous even suggesting that matters such as social responsibility have an equal weight in decision making as the financial measure such as income streams, cash flow and project returns. This was never the case in Shell and it isnt the case now.
It is possible to be honest in promoting your reputation . The work that I did for seven years in the Middle East was, I believe, transparent and without the taint of Greenwash (or any other coloured wash for that matter!). The facts of the matter are that Shell operates mainly ethically and mainly in the interests of stakeholders, in my opinion. But it is not always the case and where there is abject failure as in Ireland at Corrib Shell dives into obfuscation and coverup. Denial of the worst sort.
I take an extreme view on Corporate Social Responsibility. I think that the whole idea is nonsense certainly in the hyped way it is presented by Shell amongst others. I want corporations to be responsible of course and during my time in Shell in the main I think that we were. But to lie about HSE and other things and to suggest that these things are on a par with the profit motive just goes too far it is Incredible to do so. Shells so-called commitment to Human Rights was the most offensive of all their public boastings about their values. Remember the story I have often told about how I was instructed not to promulgate this commitment in Saudi Arabia to avoid upsetting the Rulers. What nonsense. Shell is committed to Human Rights except where it isnt! Ha!
I dont think that Shell is ethical more than any other private sector corporation is ethical. That it scores so low on the Covalence Ethical Ranking 2008 is shaming especially as their abject performance runs so counter to the rhetoric. If Peter Voser does only one thing, and that thing is for Shell to start telling the truth at last, he will have my full support. But Im not holding my breath!