Shell Games: Notorious Polluters Head to Iraq

The announcement that Shell Oil won a big contract for development of oil resources in Iraq is not making environmental activists happy at all. Shell Oil has a history of making a show of responsible behavior that it turns out not to be justified by real actions.

Although Shell spent a bit of time and money trying to repair its reputation after it was found to be involved in political murder in Nigeria, it veered away from its newfound virtue immediately after that effort had been put away.

Following the execution of Nigerian environmentalist and Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, and its attempt to dump the Brent Spar oil platform in the ocean, Shell appointed a dozen people to oversee its image overhaul. A decade later, Simon Longstaff, one of Shell’s twelve and the director of Sydney’s St. James Ethical Centre, lashed out at Shell. "The process we went through was thorough and exhaustive, but what concerned me was seeing the marketing arm of the company turn it into a PR exercise as soon as we had finished," he said.

"It was a process that should have happened slowly and been led from the top for real change to occur. Leveraging it for advertising and then having the process betrayed by the man at the top sent a very confused message to everyone in the company that wanted real change." Longstaff’s comments echo critiques of Shell’s operations in Nigeria and apartheid South Africa. [5]

In Canada, the Shell operations in developing the tar sands have a similarly slimy appearance, and the contention that they were behaving responsibly once again proved to be false.

In August 2008, Shell was found guilty of misleading the public over its tar sands operations. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled that the company should not have used the word "sustainable" when describing its Canadian tar sands operations. The ASA ruled that the Shell ad had breached rules on substantiation, truthfulness and environmental claims.

The continual abuse of the public trust seems to be a major characteristic of Shell Oil policy. We will make no friends in Iraq by that company’s misuse of contracts and performance as usual on contractual obligations.

Do we really need more problems in the Middle East and other developing countries, brought on by the abuse of unsavory operations by industries that they associate with the West, and most particularly with the U.S.? I think not.

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