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Shell says it unwittingly fed conflict in Nigeria

Reuters.co.uk: Shell says it unwittingly fed conflict in Nigeria

Thu 10 June, 2004 19:38

LONDON (Reuters) – Royal Dutch/Shell says it has inadvertently fed corruption, poverty and conflict in Nigeria through its oil activities, but says it is mending its ways.

“Government and local communities must take the lead in ending the conflict,” said Emmanuel Etomi, the oil giant’s sustainable community development manager for Nigeria, in an annual report on its social and environmental performance on Thursday.

“But as part of an industry inadvertently contributing to the problem, we are also determined to help.”

Last year, in a move to deflect continued criticism of its conduct there, Shell commissioned experts to study the impact its multi-billion dollar investment machine had had on the local community.

“Their fieldwork…highlighted how the conflict makes it difficult for us to operate with safety and with integrity; how we sometimes feed conflict by the way we award contracts, gain access to land, and deal with community representatives,” Etomi said.

Shell relies on Nigerian oil and gas for about 10 percent of current production and much of its future output growth. About a third of the oil giant’s recent reserves downgrade was in Nigeria.

Determined efforts from the world’s third-largest oil company to throw off its image as environmental despoiler and supporter of corrupt regimes have failed to deflect criticism of its conduct there, especially in the early 1990s.

A class action suit being prepared over the coming months will accuse the company and its directors of supporting military operations by Nigeria’s former government against Ogoniland separatists in the Niger Delta more than 10 years ago.

The public relations crisis over Nigeria last came to a head in 1995, when Shell was linked by international campaigners to the military government’s execution of author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

But as recently as January this year the charity Christian Aid criticised the firm for slow and inadequate oil spill clean-ups, badly thought through education, health and infrastructure projects that never got off the ground, and for making “stay-at-home” payments to Nigerian youths in an attempt to keep them from disrupting its activities.

In a more detailed report on corporate and social responsibility also released on Thursday, Shell addressed some of the issue raised by Christian Aid, but Chairman of Shell Companies in Nigeria Chris Finlayson said: “(We) recognise that our development activities in the past may have been less than perfect”.

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