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Royal Dutch Shell Plc Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer Richard Wiseman silent on Shell ethical ratings debacle

By John Donovan

Printed below is a self-explanatory email I sent last Thursday to Mr Richard Wiseman, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. Mr Wiseman is normally willing to comment on any subject which comes within his realm of responsibility. Bearing in mind that he is usually an efficient senior official of the company, it seems safe to assume that on this occasion, he does not intend to reply.

Mr Wiseman has apparently chosen to remain silent on the subject of Shell’s ethical rating. If I was in his job, representing a multinational with such a shamefully low ethical rating, I might also be reticent in facing up to the truth. If Mr Wiseman does decide to comment, then I will of course publish on an unedited basis whatever he has to say.

I copied the email to Paddy Briggs, the former Shell executive who unlike Mr Wiseman, received an acknowledgement of his contribution to Shell in the official history of the Royal Dutch Shell Group: “A CENTURY IN OIL”

Paddy Briggs leadership of ‘the world’s largest re-imaging programme’

The email response from Paddy is also printed below, with a couple of corrections authorised by Paddy.


From: John Donovan <[email protected]>

Date: Thu, 05 Feb 2009 15:14:27 +0000

To: “Wiseman, Richard RM SI-LSUK” <[email protected]>, “mich[email protected]” <[email protected]>

Cc: Paddy Briggs <[email protected]>

Conversation: Ethical Rating of Shell

Subject: Ethical Rating of Shell

Dear Mr Wiseman

I am writing to you in your capacity as Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. This email replaces the version sent earlier.

Are you prepared to comment on the Covalence Ethical Ranking 2008?

Geneva-based Covalence published on 20 January 2009 its annual ethical ranking covering 541 multinationals. According to information on their website “Covalence’ s ethical quotation system is a reputation index based on quantifying qualitative data, which is classified according to 45 criteria such as Labour standards, Waste management, Product social utility or Human rights policy. It is a barometer of how multinationals are perceived in the ethical field.”

In the unlikely event that you are unaware of the rankings, you can view them on the following webpage by selecting “Detailed Results”.

Press Release (.pdf)
Detailed Results (.xls)
Methodology Update

Out of 541 multinationals surveyed, Shell is ranked near the bottom, at 510 overall, alongside the likes of the tobacco companies and Halliburton.

I note that by comparison, BP is ranked on the same basis at a more respectable 145 despite all of its travails, including the adverse publicity repercussions of the pipeline problems in Alaska, the Texas City Refinery disaster and the circumstances of Lord Browne’s sudden departure from the company.

I have copied this email to former Shell Executive Paddy Briggs because I am sure that with his vast experience in brand reputation matters, he is far more capable of analysing and commenting on the rankings relating to Shell (if he has the time to spare).

I would also welcome your comments in defence of Shell’s reputation. It would appear that you are faced with a considerable challenge in trying to restore Shell’s ethical standing, which according to Covalence findings, is almost at rock bottom.

I received your automated response to the earlier version of this email and look forward to a formal response on Monday when you return to your office.


John Donovan


On 05/02/2009 14:29,  “paddybriggs” <[email protected]>  wrote:


Thanks for copying in me to this  communication – it will be interesting to see Shell’s  response.

In my various writings, speeches etc I have rarely  been critical of Shell’s actual business behaviour – there are others far more expert than me to judge them on such matters as Health, Safety, Environment etc.

Where I do feel qualified to speak is in respect of  Shell’s communications activities –  particularly corporate communications. These often relate to the much  promoted (by them)  Shell commitment to “Corporate Social  Responsibility” and their self-promoting statements that they have a triple  bottom line. These communications have been mind-blowingly disingenuous –  even suggesting that matters such as “social responsibility” have an equal  weight in decision making as the financial measure such as income streams,  cash flow and project returns. This was never the case in Shell and it isn’t  the case now.

It is possible to be honest in promoting your  reputation . The work that I did for seven years in the Middle East was, I  believe, transparent and without the taint of Greenwash (or any other  coloured wash for that matter!). The facts of the matter are that Shell  operates mainly ethically and mainly in the interests of stakeholders, in my  opinion. But it is not always the case and where there is abject failure –  as in Ireland at Corrib – Shell dives into obfuscation and cover–up. Denial  of the worst sort.

I take an extreme view on “Corporate Social  Responsibility”. I think that the whole idea is nonsense – certainly in the  hyped way it is presented by Shell amongst others. I want corporations to be  responsible of course – and during my time in Shell in the main I think that  we were. But to lie about HSE and other things and to suggest that these  things are on a par with the profit motive just goes too far – it is  Incredible to do so. Shell’s so-called commitment to Human Rights was  the most offensive of all their public boastings about their “values”.  Remember the story I have often told about how I was instructed not to  promulgate this “commitment” in Saudi Arabia to avoid upsetting the Rulers.  What nonsense. Shell is committed to Human Rights – except where it isn’t!  Ha!

I don’t think that Shell is ethical more than any other  private sector corporation is ethical. That it scores so low on the  “Covalence Ethical Ranking 2008” is shaming – especially as their abject  performance runs so counter to the rhetoric. If Peter Voser does only one  thing, and  that thing is for Shell to start telling the truth at last,  he will have my full support. But I’m not holding my  breath!




Mr. Wiseman retired in February 2011. During his long career at Shell he had been a director of numerous companies within the Royal Dutch Shell Group.

SEE: Richard Max WISEMAN – Personal Appointments (free information from Companies House) and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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