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UK: Shell faces investor fury over pay, pollution and human rights

by Terry MacalisterThe Guardian
May 17th, 2009

Annual meeting will face an outcry from shareholders and campaigners over boardroom bonuses and pollution record

Flames from a Shell flow station in Nigeria's Delta

Women dry tapioca beside flames from Shell's Utorogu flow station in Otu Jerenmi in Nigeria's Niger Delta. Campaigners want gas flaring to stop. Photograph: George Esiri/Reuters

Shell will come under fire from shareholders and environmentalists on Tuesday over executive pay, polluting gas flaring and alleged human rights abuses in Nigeria.

The annual general meeting in London will see a rebellion from investors angry that the board has used its discretion to award bonuses despite the company's failure to meet pre-set targets.

The Association of British Insurers has issued an "amber top" alert to its members about its concerns while one of the top 10 Shell investors has already said privately that it would vote against the company's remuneration report.

The louder noise is likely to come from outside the annual meeting at London's Barbican Centre where a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) under the banner of ShellGuilty has promised to stage a "noisy and fiery" demonstration.

Pressure on Shell has increased because the company will stand trial in New York next week for alleged collusion in human rights abuses dating back to the 1995 hanging of the writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. He had campaigned against Shell's operations in his native Niger Delta region.

Shell also faces legal action in the Netherlands, the first time the Anglo-Dutch energy group has had to defend itself in a Dutch court. Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Nigerian plaintiffs are bringing an action over repeated oil spills in the Niger Delta.

"Shareholders need to start worrying more about Shell's impact on the planet than the impact of the company's pension packages on their pockets," said Richard Howlett, campaigner at Platform, one of the organisations in the ShellGuilty campaign.

"Shell are planning to invest $5bn [3.3bn] in tar sands the dirtiest means of oil extraction. This money would more than cover the cost of ending gas flaring in Nigeria. Shell needs to wake up to its responsibility for environmental devastation," he added.

Anne van Schaik, of another member of the NGO coalition, Friends of the Earth Netherlands, said: "We hope the Dutch judge will decide that Shell HQ is accountable for the company's operations worldwide and that the company will be forced to clean up the pollution and compensate the victims properly."

The campaign's chief demand is an end to gas flaring in the Niger Delta. The practice poisons communities, emits huge amounts of greenhouse gases, and wastes approximately $2.5bn of natural gas annually, argues ShellGuilty.

Steve Kretzmann, from Oil Change International, added: "We are glad to see Shell finally being held to account for their human rights abuses in this month's trial. But for justice to really be done the illegal gas flaring Ken Saro-Wiwa died fighting against must end."

Shell declined to comment, saying it would answer any questions at the annual meeting.





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