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Call for Norwegian Government Pension Fund disinvestment in Shell

An eminent group of scientists and professionals have sent a collective communication to the Norwegian Government Pension Fund recommending disinvestment in the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell on ethical grounds.

By John Donovan

An eminent group of scientists and professionals have sent a collective communication to the Norwegian Government Pension Fund recommending disinvestment in the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell on ethical grounds.

The pension fund has already dis-invested in several mining and forestry companies “known to cause severe environmental and human rights related harm in their operations.”

If the campaign is successful, which focuses on Shell’s horrendous track record in Nigeria, Royal Dutch Shell would be the first oil and gas company the fund would exclude from its portfolio.

The joint recommendation, sent last Friday, is printed below.

January 27, 2012                                          via email: [email protected]

Professor dr. juris Ola Mestad, Chairman
Council on Ethics
Norway Government Pension Fund
Etikkrådet for Statens pensjonsfond utland
Postboks 8008 Dep?0030 Oslo, Norway

RE: Recommendation that the Norway Pension Fund exclude holdings in Royal Dutch Shell due to the severe environmental and social harm caused by Shell’s long-term negligence in the Niger Delta, Nigeria

Dear Chairman Mestad,

We, the undersigned conservation scientists and professionals from around the world, write to you today asking you to take action on a matter of significant importance regarding corporate social responsibility and ethical investment.

We are aware of the laudable ethical standards your Council on Ethics has established with which to screen all investments made by the Norway Pension Fund, in particular its environmental standards.  We commend you for the previous divestments the Fund has made in mining and forestry companies known to cause severe environmental and human rights related harm in their operations.

We note that Section 2 of your Guidelines for the observation and exclusion of companies from the Government Pension Fund Global’s investment universe states, (inter alia):

3) The Ministry of Finance may, on the advice of the Council of Ethics, exclude companies from the investment universe of the Fund if there is an unacceptable risk that the company contributes to or is responsible for: a) serious or systematic human rights violations, such as murder, torture,?deprivation of liberty, forced labour, the worst forms of child labour and other?child exploitation;?b) serious violations of the rights of individuals in situations of war or conflict;?c) severe environmental damage; d) gross corruption; e) other particularly serious violations of fundamental ethical norms.

(4) In assessing whether a company shall be excluded in accordance with paragraph 3, the Ministry may among other things consider the probability of future norm violations; the severity and extent of the violations; the connection between the norm violations and the company in which the Fund is invested; whether the company is doing what can reasonably be expected to reduce the risk of future norm violations within a reasonable time frame; the company’s guidelines for, and work on, safeguarding good corporate governance, the environment and social conditions; and whether the company is making a positive contribution for those affected, presently or in the past, by the company’s behaviour.

Chairman Mestad, Jan. 27, 2012

Page 2.

In this regard, some members of our group and associates have worked for years on the impacts of oil production in the Niger Delta, and we conclude that Shell has for decades caused severe environmental and social harm in the region.  Evidence of this includes, but is not limited to, a history of repeated oil spills at Bomu Manifold, Korokoro flow station and Ejama-Ebubu in the minority Ogoni region of the Niger Delta (See Ogoniland Environmental Assessment, UNEP 2011).  Further, Shell is well aware of the damage it continues to cause, and has not taken necessary action to remedy the continuing problems. We feel Shell’s long-term negligent behavior in the Niger Delta satisfies the Fund’s standards for exclusion as set forth in Paragraphs 3 and 4 of your Ethical Guidelines referenced above.

Although Shell is clearly required by Nigerian law (as well as its own corporate policies) to conduct its oil and gas production, transportation, refining, and export operations with best available international standards, it has knowingly and consistently violated this requirement in Nigeria for decades.    Shell is required to meet these high standards in oil infrastructure integrity, spill prevention, prevention of third party damage, monitoring and maintenance of facilities, spill response, spill restoration, and financial compensation.   However, Shell repeatedly ignores such requirements for regular inspection and maintenance of oil facilities, upgrading pipelines and production facilities to best available standards, and prompt and effective response to oil spills (See Double Standards: International Standards to Prevent and Control Pipeline Oil Spills, Compared with Shell Practices in Nigeria, Steiner, 2008/2010).

To begin to address these issues, some of the signatories to this letter organized and conducted the first preliminary environmental damage assessment of oil impacts across the Niger Delta in 2006, in collaboration with many Nigeria scientists and communities, and found the Delta to be one of the most severely oil-impacted ecosystems in the world (Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project – Phase I Scoping Report, Nigeria Conservation Foundation and IUCN/CEESP, 2006).   The 2006 study estimated that the average volume of oil spilled in the Niger Delta each year equaled that spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989 – officially reported to be about 220,000 barrels.  It is our conclusion that most of this environmental injury in the Niger Delta is due to the largest and oldest petroleum producer in the there– Royal Dutch Shell.

In 2006 our group recommended to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that it conduct a comprehensive environmental damage assessment of oil impacts in the Delta.  Subsequently, UNEP did conduct an assessment of oil contamination in Ogoniland (part of Shell’s operating area in the Delta), and published its final Ogoniland Environmental Assessment last year (UNEP, 2011).  The UNEP report agreed with our 2006 assessment, confirming that the region has been continuously and severely damaged by oil.   Again, this is Shell’s operating area.

Chairman Mestad, Jan. 27, 2012

Page 3.

It is evident to our group, and many others working and living in the Niger Delta, that Shell has consistently violated its legal and ethical obligations in Nigeria, it is well aware of this continuing problem, it knows how to correct the problems, and yet continues to operate negligently and with impunity.

And it is clear that Shell’s behavior in the Delta does not constitute isolated and infrequent accidents.  Rather, the company’s willful negligence has continued over several decades.  Mr. Chairman, we feel it is time the international community takes a strong stand against such ongoing corporate malfeasance.

Thus, we were delighted to see the Council’s Annual Report 2009 state the following:

The Council is also going to investigate more closely the Fund’s investments in coal mines in light of the many accidents in this industry, and is as well as looking into oil pollution in the Niger Delta in light of the many oil spills in the region over a prolonged period and the impact this may have on the environment and human health (emphasis added).

Clearly, it would be unethical for the Norway Fund to continue “profiting” from its investments in Shell, while Shell is “profiting” from its continuing negligence regarding the environment and people of the Niger Delta.

We applaud your investigation of environmental and social injury caused by oil operations in the Niger Delta. By way of this letter, we respectfully encourage the Council on Ethics to recommend full divestment and exclusion of all holdings of the Norway Government Pension Fund in Royal Dutch Shell, Plc. and its subsidiaries, due to the consistent and severe environmental and social harm caused by Shell’s negligent oil and gas operations in the Niger Delta, Nigeria.

We recognize that this would be the Fund’s first exclusion of holdings in the petroleum sector, and as such, feel this would send a powerful message to the petroleum sector globally.  We also feel divestment by the Norway Fund will provide strong motivation for Shell to improve its environmental and social performance in Nigeria and globally.  Such action would similarly motivate other companies operating in the Delta in which the Fund is invested.

Please do not hesitate to contact any of us if you need other information.  We would also invite the Council on Ethics to conduct a fact-finding mission to the Delta if you so desire.

We look forward to your decision on this important issue.

Chairman Mestad, Jan. 27, 2012

Page 4.

Respectfully (in alphabetical order),

Gordon Abiama, Director, Africa Centre for Geoclassical Economics, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, Niger Delta, NIGERIA

Pastor Innocent Adjenughure, Executive Director, Institute for Dispute Resolution, Niger Delta Study Group on Extractive Sector (NIDESGES), Delta State, NIGERIA

Ben Amunwa, Researcher, Platform, London, UK

Nnimmo Bassey, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), NIGERIA

Dr. Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, President, Paul K. Feyerabend Foundation, SWITZERLAND

Dr. Bram Büscher, Associate Professor of Environment and Sustainable       Development, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University NETHERLANDS

Dr. Crystal Fortwangler, Anthropologist, USA

Ken Henshaw, Programmes Manager, Social Action, NIGERIA

I. Herbert, Sustainable Environment and Economic Resources (SEERs), USA

Janet Howitt, Environmental Safety Group, Gibraltar, UK

Kira L. Johnson MSc, Conservation Biologist, USA

Sandra Kloff, Consultant, Marine and Coastal Management, NETHERLANDS

Ronald Leger, CANADA

Janaki Lenin, Writer, INDIA

Father Père Félicien Mavoungou, Commission épiscopale Justice et Paix Brazzaville, REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Akpobari Celestine Nkabari, Ogoni Solidarity Forum-NIGERIA and Social Action, NIGERIA

Chairman Mestad, Jan. 27, 2012

Page 5.

(Signatures continued)

Abiri Oluwatosin Niyi, Sustainable Nigeria, NIGERIA

Faith Nwadishi, Publish What You Pay/Koyenum Immalah Foundation, NIGERIA

Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, International Advocacy Officer, The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) NIGERIA

Alfredo Quarto, Executive Director, Mangrove Action Project, USA

Dr. Kristin Reed, author of Crude Existence, USA

Geert Ritsema, International Affairs Coordinator, Friends of the Earth, NETHERLANDS

Paul Siegel, Conservationist, Dakar, SENEGAL

Richard Steiner, Professor, University of Alaska (ret.) Oasis Earth, Anchorage Alaska, USA

Dr. Makere Stewart-Harawira, Associate Professor University of Alberta, Edmonton, CANADA

Rev. David Ugolor, African Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), NIGERIA

Dr. Geert van Vliet, Economist, CIRAD, FRANCE

Weirt Wiertsema, Senior Policy Advisor, Both Ends, NETHERLANDS

Nicholas Winer, Just Conservation, SPAIN

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