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Shell’s Ruthless Exploitation of Gas Station Operators

We have published today a letter received from a throughly disillusioned German businessman Peter Wittig, who for several years, operated a Shell petrol station in Germany.

We noted similarities with Shell dealers who contacted us when we operated the Shell Corporate Conscience Pressure Group. Over 200 Shell UK dealers became members. Like the German businessman, many said they had been deceived and cheated by Shell. This was partly during the period that David Pirret, now a Royal Dutch Shell Executive Vice President, was head of Shell UK Retail Department and therefore the executive responsible for the predatory behaviour.  Like Peter Wittig, many Shell UK retailers could not reconcile Shell’s ruthless unscrupulous conduct with the pledges of ethical trading proclaimed in the Shell General Business Principles.

This discrepancy was highlighted in a letter we received from Shell Agent Operator, Sheila Gee.

Dear Mr Donovan

I have just read your leaflet entitled “RETURN OF THE ROBBER BARONS“.

My husband and I have been Shell station operators for 51/2 years up until 31st March 1999. Along with many other operators, our site has been taken over by Shell and is now being directly managed by them.

We suffered substantial losses from August 1998 when the new operating contracts came in. The new terms imposed by Shell made it impossible to conduct our business on a profitable basis. I am aware that many other operators have also been forced out of business by Shell. I understand that you will be publishing letters from some of them in coming weeks.

My husband and I experienced the “Bully Boy Tactics” mentioned in your leaflet. The Shell Regional Manager, Mr Stephen Gregory, came on to our site and issued a 48-hour ultimatum. We were told to comply with his edict or we would be out immediately. Such ruthless conduct must be immoral.

I confirm that in my experience Shell UK operates oppressively against small business people. Its staff has acted unscrupulously and possibly illegally. The tactics of Shell UK management is completely opposite to the honesty and integrity promised by Shell in its code of ethics.

Shell seems to think that it is so all-powerful that it can steamroller over any small business people who complain about its scandalous business practices.

How dare they spend £25 million on a public relations campaign to promote Shell’s reputation when they treat people so appallingly.

I understand that the Shell Shareholders Organisation intends to ask the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate Shell’s campaign on the grounds that the public is being misled about Shell’s integrity. A number of former Agent Operators, including my husband and I, will be pleased to supply evidence to an ASA investigation.

I also intend to take my case up in person with Shell Chairman, Mr Mark Moody-Stuart, at the forthcoming Shell Annual General Meeting. Several other former Shell Agent Operators will also be in attendance to protest in the strongest terms against the wicked policies of Shell, which have driven many other decent hardworking people and us to despair and destitution.

Yours sincerely
Sheila Gee

Some Shell Retailers used even stronger language to describe Shell’s conduct.

Letter from Shell station operator, J Simpson & Sons Ltd dated 7 April 1995: “We would hope this letter may help you and serve as a warning to others contemplating any form of activity with this company” (SHELL)

Letter from Shell station operator, Roger Threlfall: “I am not at all happy with Shell. I believe the current regime is totally immoral”

Letter from Shell station operator (and former Police Officer) Patrick Bradshaw, to Shell Chairman Mark Moody-Stuart: “because of the underhanded manner and deceit of some of your management..”: “bully boy tactics”

Letter from Patrick Bradshaw to his local MP: “Management that can falsify the truth without a moments hesitation”: Shell’s ruthlessness and cheating practices”

The results of a survey of over 1400 Shell UK retailers was extraordinary. All responses were opened under the supervision of an independent solicitor who supplied an Affidavit verifying the results.

During this same period, 378 Shell gas stations operators in the US sued Shell Oil Company, Motiva and Equilon Enterprises alleging the companies

“used their dominant position in the marketplace to prevent the small business owners from successfully running their gas stations. “Shell has targeted these individual gas station dealers and has used illegal, strong-armed business practices to force these individuals out of business”…

It is clear that Peter Wittig and his fellow Shell retailers who suffered at the hands of Shell in Germany were not alone – “strong-armed business practices” were used by Shell on an international basis against Shell dealers, retailers and agents who were misled into believing they were dealing with an honest multinational company.

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