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Sunday Herald: Former Shell executive accuses oil firms of ‘hypocrisy’ over human rights

By Lianne Gutcher
14 October 2007

Firms condemned for failing to back up ethical policies

THE DEALINGS of oil companies in countries such as China and Burma have led a former Shell executive to accuse his ex-employer and its rivals of “hypocrisy” in regard to human rights.

Paddy Briggs, who worked for Shell for 37 years before retiring in 2002, has criticised oil giants for continuing to be involved in countries accused of human rights abuses, despite issuing statements insisting they support those rights. Briggs cites Shell’s involvement in China and Saudi Arabia, and Total’s investment in Burma as examples of this hypocrisy.

In an article entitled The Myth Of Corporations’ Commitments To Human Rights, written in advance of a speech he will give at a PR conference in Dubai next month, Briggs wrote: “The contradictions between rhetoric and actions have to be avoided. There is, frankly, no point in having your PR department issue commitments’ on the one hand, while business managers go their own sweet way in ignoring these so-called assurances on the other.”

He continued: “My experience in Shell, and I have little doubt that most oil multinationals are just the same, is that commitments to human rights are not worth anything at all.”

Briggs illustrated his argument with examples from his time at Shell. In 1989, shortly after the bloodshed in Tiananmen Square, Shell launched a study into investing $1 billion (£500 million) in a petrochemical complex in southern China. The project was deemed feasible, and the Nanhai complex started commercial operations started last year.

He wrote: “Although back in 1989 Shell did not have any open commitment to human rights, it did institute such a promise in the 1990s and declared it openly. Notwithstanding this commitment, the project went ahead in a country that been accused of continued human rights abuses.”

Shell rebutted Briggs’s article, which was published on the Business And Human Rights Resource Centre website. The oil company said: “We take our commitment to human rights seriously, and to suggest otherwise is just not the case.”

In a statement to the Sunday Herald, Shell said: “We believe that companies have a role to play in upholding and promoting human rights in practical ways directly related to their business activities, and in supporting governments’ efforts to improve their human rights performance.”

Shell said construction at Nanhai was underpinned by an environmental and social impact assessment “verified and certified by an independent, internationally acceptable body”.

The company said the complex “is making a substantial contribution towards wealth and progress in the local area, creating 1500 permanent jobs, 95% for Chinese workers, and using local suppliers wherever possible.”

Total did not reply to questions emailed by the Sunday Herald.

Briggs insisted that he has no axe to grind. He said his speech at the Public Relations Congress in Dubai, at which the UK goverment’s former communications chief Alastair Campbell is also billed to speak, will also include references to corporate communications from Shell that he believes are positive.

Updating his original piece last Friday, Briggs wrote: “Total in Burma or Shell in China or Saudi Arabia are active in these countries because they believe that future profit streams will accrue to them – to the benefit of shareholders. That these countries are high on the lists of pariah states according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty is of no importance when stacked up against corporate greed.

“So my plea is not to Total or Shell or BP not to be involved in these places. That is not realistic. My plea is to stop the hypocritical sham of claiming that you support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while operating in countries where human rights abuses are endemic.”

Comment:

Posted by: John Donovan, Colchester UK on 8:06am today

As a Shell shareholder I find it absolutely appalling that Royal Dutch Shell is still pressing on with its plans in Iran despite: –

*Sanctions threats against Shell by the American government…

*Iran’s avowed intent to become a nuclear power…

*Iranian threats to eliminate Israel…

*Iranian capture, exploitation and release for propaganda purposes of British sailors/hostages…

*Iranian supply of roadside bombs to blow up American and British soldiers in Iraq…

Shell is so desperate to secure hydrocarbon reserves following the 2004 securities scandal, when nearly a third of Shell’s claimed reserves turned out to be illusionary, that it is one of the few oil giants still active in Iran. Such involvement is morally indefensible.

http://www.sundayherald.com/business/businessnews/display.var.1758255.0.former_shell_executive_accuses_oil_firms_of_hypocrisy_over_human_rights.php

royaldutchshellplc.com and its sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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