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Veterans to boycott Shell after ban on forecourt poppy sales

The Sunday Times

November 8, 2009


Marc Horne

SHELL, the oil giant, is facing a boycott of its products by armed forces veterans after it banned poppy appeal collections at its petrol stations.

Veterans will this week discuss organising an embargo in protest at the Anglo-Dutch company’s refusal to allow poppies to be sold on its forecourts.

Shell Retail, which operates more than 1,000 service stations in the UK, imposed the ban because, it says, it already contributes to a number of charities, including Macmillan Cancer Relief, the RSPCA and Motability.

The issue was raised with the company last week by the Royal Scots Regimental Association. A letter from Shirley Cinco, at Shell’s customer service centre in Manchester, said: “Rather than simply giving to worthy causes, Shell prefers to donate skills, time and knowledge as well as money.

“It is in the context of this strategy that Shell Retail will not be allowing any further charities, including the poppy appeal, to use its forecourt network to collect monies.”

Esso said it was up to individual station managers if they wanted to arrange poppy collections. BP, Morrisons and Tesco all said they were happy to endorse poppy collections on their premises.

The Royal British Legion Scotland, which organises the annual Remembrance Week poppy appeal to raise money for ex-servicemen’s charities, said the ban by Shell was particularly offensive as the oil company’s North Sea oil platforms had for decades been protected by the armed forces.

“I accept that no charity has an automatic right to place their collecting cans wherever they want,” said a spokesman for the charity, Neil Griffiths. “But it does seem strange for a company that has benefited so much from the armed forces to fail to acknowledge that.”

John Richardson, of the Scottish Veterans Association, said he planned to discuss the possibility of a boycott of Shell service stations with his members: “We will make their stance very clear to our members and they can decide whether or not they feel strongly enough to take their custom elsewhere.”

Geoff Murray, secretary of the Commando Veterans Association, said: “I am astonished that such a well-known company as Shell would be so crass and insensitive. Most people will regard this as an insult to our veterans. “I’m sure that many of our members will be concerned enough about this to consider boycotting Shell.”

The Labour MP Eric Joyce, a former aide to Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, and a former officer with the Black Watch, said the company’s position was out of touch with public opinion.

“Given the current situation in Afghanistan, it is more important than ever to support poppy week,” he said. “Shell’s refusal to allow collecting cans in their service stations is mindless and misguided.”

Shell yesterday stood by the ban, although it has agreed to project an image of a poppy onto its corporate HQ in London to show its support.

Last week Derbyshire county council reversed a ban on poppy collections at its 48 public libraries following a public outcry.

Bodycare UK, the toiletries chain, was also forced into a U-turn after an employee in a Wigan store was ordered to remove a poppy from her uniform. The company backed down after the matter was taken up by the local Labour MP and veterans’ groups.

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