Shell has stained its reputation through offences associated with many human rights abuses as well as with environmental pollution. The tragic events in Nigeria led to the execution of certain human rights activists who opposed Shell's operations: the Nigerian government carried out the executions. Despite this, Shell is still operating in Nigeria.
Environmental pollution continues to be a problem in different parts of the world, and can lead to many human rights offences. It can cause an increase in health problems and make it harder for people to earn a living. Yet repressive governments try to make it difficult or impossible for people to complain openly about these problems. And multinational companies, by working with these governments, often give direct or indirect support to this suppression of free speech.
Shell is one of the largest companies in the world. It operates in 130 countries and in 2006 its turnover was $319 billion and its profit was $26.3 billion. From its profits alone you could finance several ?third world? countries.
Shell has a general ethical rulebook in which they say that they consider on a case-by-case basis whether they will operate in countries that have a record of human rights and free speech abuses. Shell, however, does not appear to want to discuss any countries where they have refused to operate, or even to state whether such countries exist.
Shell engaged in long negotiations with the Turkmenistan government about a gas pipeline that was to be constructed in that country. They seem, though, to have pulled out of the project for reasons that are not quite clear. According to the former head of Turkmenistan's national bank, it was a question of a bribe sum that was ?evidently too much to be paid.? Shell has declined to discuss this matter, even though on the surface it would seem not to involve any misconduct on their part. After all, it is generally considered honorable to refuse to pay a bribe.
Turkmenistan is constantly reported in different human rights reports as one of the world's worst countries in terms of human rights and free speech issues. If the former national bank manager is telling the truth, Shell was apparently willing to consider operating in Turkmenistan up to the point when an exceptionally large bribe was requested. The relevant questions are: Are there any countries where Shell has found, under the standards of its rulebook, that the human rights and free speech situation alone makes Shell choose not to work there? Or is it instead the case that Shell makes its decision not to work on the basis of issues such as whether the amounts of bribe money requested is too large to be paid? Is it truly the issues of human rights and free speech that Shell weighs under its guidelines, or is the decision rather made mainly or solely on financial grounds?
In short, is there any country in the world where Shell will not work based solely on human rights and free speech issues? Do the Shell guidelines actually mean anything in practice?
Through the new chairman of the company, Shell has recently been meritoriously advocating new climate change policies as well as certain clean values. We challenge and invite Shell to a more open discussion about its actions in countries that perpetuate human rights and free speech abuses, and also about Shell's operations that pollute the environment. International companies, especially the largest ones, have a great responsibility in their operations to set an example as leaders and moral standard-bearers. When they engage in corrupt activities, they hurt not only themselves but set a bad example that encourages corruption in all other companies.
We hope that the positive signals from Shell lately on certain issues will lead to positive results. Past mistakes can always be dealt with and improved upon by greater learning and by a genuine effort to find new approaches.
Shell – you can think of FreedomForSale as your outlet for discussion and change.
Arto Halonen & Kevin Frazier try to reach Shell