John Donovan at the Shell Centre, 4 April 2012
Professional translation (by OneHourTranslation) of the German narration in the ARD TV Europa Magazine documentary feature: Great Britain: A lone fighter against Shell. Broadcast Saturday 21 April 2012.
Next to the London Eye, the Shell Centre stands tall. Its enemy stands at the door.
“You might find that interesting,” says John Donovan. He distributes flyers to inform people about the oil company’s drilling projects.
“Shell destroys communities,” is what the banner says. An older gentleman and a handful of like-minded people are aggravating one of the world’s largest oil giants.
“We are putting Shell in a tough spot. What we’re doing is embarrassing them by distributing those leaflets. But they can’t do anything about it, because what we say is true and we can prove it.”
John uses the flyers in what is mostly a symbolic gesture to the enemy; he leads the real wave of protest on the internet. A long time ago, John secured the internet domain royaldutchshellplc.com. It sounds like the company’s official webpage, but in reality, it shows its dark side. Millions of people click on the articles and then discover scandalous details about Shell. For example, about what the company is doing in Nigeria. Oil spills are contaminating the Niger Delta. Donovan was able to prove that Shell cooperated with rebels.
The Englishman is holding up a mirror to Shell. “We want Shell to honour its own business principles. The firm made them in 1976 and people are supposed to believe the promises they made in there that Shell will at all times work with honesty, integrity and openness towards its employees, suppliers and the public. However, in our experience, they do not do this; they are a ruthless, mean oil company. “
John Donovan’s revelations cost Shell billions. In 2005, he wrote an email to the Russian President about Shell’s lax safety standards. This is how Putin learned that the oil drilling project in Siberia, Sakhalin II, could be threatened by an environmental catastrophe. The consequences were expensive. Shell’s reputation in Moscow dropped, as did its profits. The Russians degraded Shell to a minority partner in its joint venture.
“Yes, Mr. Donovan’s documents really helped us,” Russia’s former deputy environmental minister confirms. “His evidence proved without a doubt that documents had been forged and that problems had deliberately been kept secret.”
It goes without saying that John Donovan doesn’t buy his petrol from Shell. He did, however, do business with them in the past. John ran petrol stations and thought up advertising slogans for the energy giant. “We used to be something like partners,” says John.
The fight started after a bitter disappointment. “One of their managers had stolen one of our ideas and expected that we wouldn’t sue them because Shell is so rich and powerful. But we didn’t want to let things be and we pursued them in the courts and it’s gone on for two decades ever since.”
John experienced how Shell treats people for himself. That was his motivation for scrutinizing the company. The piles of research in his home in Colchester continue to grow, along with all the information provided to him by insiders. It is a full-time job for the early retiree. The files even fill his old refrigerator – a fitting symbol of the cold war against Shell.
“We found out what Shell really thinks about us, because we have read internal correspondence on the topic. It said that they instituted a global spying operation against us. They even recruited people from Pittsburgh who work for the FBI.”
In comparison, John Donovan is open about his actions. He notifies Shell of his protests; anyone can read his website.
One man, who worked for the opponent for 37 years, says that Donovan is annoying. Patrick Briggs thinks that this is a good thing, however.
“When you have that amount of power, you need to be held accountable. My view is that democratic systems don’t hold multinationals like Shell as accountable as they should. So there’s a gap and it’s into that gap that people like John Donovan will come.”
One senior against Shell. And he still has quite a few things up his sleeve. The energy giant will be subjected to John Donovan’s evil eye for a very long time.