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Toxic ethical ranking of Royal Dutch Shell

By John Donovan

Geneva-based Covalence recently published its ethical rankings for 2008 covering 541 multinationals.

It says on its 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.”

Out of 541 multinationals surveyed, Royal Dutch Shell has an overall ranking of 510, alongside the likes of the tobacco companies and Halliburton.

The entire rankings can be viewed on the Convalence website: 

Press Release (.pdf)?

Detailed Results (.xls)?

Methodology Update

By comparison, Shell’s oil giant rival BP, has a much more respectable overall ranking of 145. This is despite all of BP’s travails, including the adverse publicity arising from the pipeline problems in Alaska, the Texas City Refinery disaster and the sudden departure of Lord Browne as a result of an unsavory scandal. 

So why is Shell’s ethical ranking almost at rock bottom? 

The company has been caught up in many controversies and scandals including a multi-billion dollar securities fraud; multiple greenwashing offences; price-fixing cartels; an oil-for-arms corruption scandal; a level of employee fatalities higher than any of its peers, and a track record of deadly pollution e.g. continued gas flaring in Nigeria Shell had promised to end years ago.

Information can be found on Wikipedia.

Controversies surrounding Royal Dutch Shell

Royal Dutch Shell environmental issues

Royal Dutch Shell safety concerns

The company has also been hit with a series of embarrassing leaked internal emails reported by many global news organisations:


Financial Times: Shell pension scheme vales falls 40%

International Herald Tribune: Shell’s pension underfunded  

Guardian: Shell gets tough on costs as oil prices bite

Reuters: Shell eyes Mid East growth, to cut some jobs

Last week, Reuters published an article about a Shell confidential high level email revealing senior managements chilling vow to “ruthlessly review 3rd parties costs”.

International Herald Tribune: Shell to stall hires and get “ruthless” on contractors

The definition of “ruthless” is: “Without pity or compassion; cruel, pitiless.”

It is difficult to reconcile the ruthless nature of Shell’s business plans, as set out in the confidential email, compared with its claimed business principles of treating people with respect.

Richard Wiseman, Chief Ethics & Compliance Officer of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, did not take up my invitation to comment on the shamefully low rating. 

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

If Shell management does not start behaving in accordance with its own ethical code pledging honesty, integrity and transparency, instead of acting like a ruthless robber oil baron, its ethical ranking will remain toxic.

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