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TELLSHELL: Oil companies must be made to follow UN on human rights

TELLSHELL: Oil companies must be made to follow UN on human rights

The following is a contribution submitted to the Editor of the Independent newspaper commenting on a letter they published on 27 August 2004 from Sir Geoffrey Chandler, a distinguished former director of Shell International. My guess is that knowing Shell is currently in dire straits Sir Geoffrey was trying to boost management morale on the grounds of Shell (and BP’s) supposed adherence to their respective codes of business principles, relating especially to human rights. His letter can be read via the following link:

My Letter: Sir: I am writing in relation to the letter from Sir Geoffrey Chandler focusing attention on Shell and BP’s leadership in building a human rights responsibility into their business principles. Sir Geoffrey also mentioned their recognition of the importance of explicit adherence to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although perhaps too modest to say so, Sir Geoffrey was in fact the initiator of Shell’s first Statement of General Business Principles in 1976.

He is a highly distinguished gentleman and an expert on human rights and corporate responsibility. In this connection, it would be interesting to know what Sir Geoffrey makes of the Shell reserves scandal bearing in mind Shell’s proclaimed core business principles of honesty, openness and integrity in all of its dealings.

With regards to “openness” in particular, Sir Geoffrey may be concerned to learn that eight companies within the Royal Dutch Shell Group recently obtained an interim Court Order against Dr John Huong, a former Shell geologist of almost 30 years standing. It demanded the removal of his “Whistleblower” postings from a website of which I am the owner and operator, namely The salient point as far as Sir Geoffrey’s letter is concerned, is that the postings which are the subject of Shell’s action, include several extracts from the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression.

Shell ignored a request that the relevant extracts should be excluded from the Restraining Order. I personally brought this surprising matter to the attention of His Excellency Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General. I received a response today from Mr Georg Kell, the UN Executive Head of Global Compact indicating that the UN has no mandate or resources to become involved in such matters.

It may be a salient factor that Dr Huong has expertise and knowledge of Shell’s oil and gas reserves over recent material years which are still the subject of scrutiny by regulators and circling lawyers. He has potentially important and perhaps perilous information, bearing in mind that multibillion dollar sums are at stake in the pending class action law suits against Shell and named directors.

The degree of Shell’s determination to silence Dr Huong can be judged by the fact that after obtaining the interim Restraining Order, lawyers acting for the Royal Dutch Shell Group sent a letter threatening him with committal proceedings. The supposed basis for this threat was because the High Court of Malaya Writ and associated Court papers (already in the public domain) were published on my website. Shell is aware of the interest that New York class action lawyers have expressed in relation to Dr Huong.

I would also draw Sir Geoffrey’s attention to the “TELLSHELL” feature on Shell’s website, * It claims to provide a forum for “lively debate” about issues relating to Shell. Yet a stage was reached a few weeks ago when contributors complained that more postings were being deleted (for “legal reasons”) than were allowed to remain on display. The webmaster has admitted that things have gone awry and hopefully Shell’s censorship policy will in future be more in line with its supposed commitment to freedom of expression under the UN Declaration.

Suffice it to say that Shell’s commitment to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and freedom of expression in particular, may not be quite as solid as Sir Geoffrey implies in his letter.

As Sir Geoffrey is aware, codes of conduct such as Shell’s Statement of General Business Principles have no legal standing whatsoever. This has been confirmed to me in writing by Shell Legal Director Richard Wiseman. Consequently the public and investors have to rely ultimately on management honouring legally unenforceable pledges.

Unfortunately there are apparently not enough individuals of the calibre and integrity of Sir Geoffrey to always ensure that management deeds are compatible with PR rhetoric (and solemnly stated pledges by management).

Alfred Donovan
*This article was removed by the TELLSHELL webmaster on 1 September. I then reposted it without featuring the letter from Sir Geoffrey Chandler.

This website and sisters,,,, and, are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia segment.

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