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Shell chairman to view problems at Sapref, says activist

Business Report (SA): Shell chairman to view problems at Sapref, says activist

“Shareholders are tired of Shell’s lying and spinning”: “a chorus of disillusionment over its integrity and transparency”

June 29, 2004

By Samantha Enslin and Sapa – AFP

Durban – Shell chairman Ron Oxburgh had conceded that there were problems at the SA Petroleum Refinery (Sapref) in Durban and had agreed to come to see for himself, according to Desmond D’ Sa, the chairman of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance.

D’ Sa was among environmental activists who joined Royal Dutch/Shell shareholders yesterday at the oil giant’s annual general meeting in a chorus of disillusionment over its integrity and transparency.

Twenty representatives of communities living next to Shell refineries around the world attended the meeting in London to raise concerns over Shell’s double standards when it came to operating refineries in developing and developed countries.

This followed the publication last week of a report entitled Behind the Shine – The Other Shell Report 2003, which details the experiences of communities living near Shell operations.

Shell is accused of polluting communities, damaging wildlife habitats and failing to live up to its promise of environmental and social responsibility.

Speaking after the meeting, Ardiel Soeker, an air quality campaigner for Groundwork, said: “Shell is continuing to say they are doing all they can to address problems at refineries.”

“This is just an attempt to shut us up, and we are not very satisfied with this response.”

According to the report, Sapref has had five environmental incidents between last October and April this year.

Commenting on the meeting’s atmosphere, D’ Sa said: “Shareholders are tired of Shell’s lying and spinning and want the company to be open and transparent.”

Environmental activists last week addressed UK parliamentarians to seek legislative changes that will hold directors of UK firms responsible for environmental and human rights abuses committed in other countries by their companies.

Shareholders also took the company to task over improper reserves disclosure.

The management of Shell said rebuilding its depleted reserves was “a major priority” as it sought to defuse investor anger.

“There can be explanation but there can be no excuse,” said Malcolm Brinded, Shell’s new head of exploration and production, in an apologetic tone.

“Such a crisis should never have happened; unfortunately, it has,” Brinded told investors at the meeting in London.

Shell is trying to restore investor confidence after cutting its proven reserves by a total of 4.47 billion barrels since January.

Key executives have been ousted from the group amid an ensuing investor backlash, including former chairman Philip Watts. The Anglo-Dutch group is facing calls from major shareholders to speed up a review of its corporate governance and ownership structure.

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