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Netherlands: Greenpeace Buys Shell Stock

Associated Press
March 14th, 2000

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- Forget the rubber rafts, the wet suits, the handcuffs.

Greenpeace activists on Tuesday brandished a new weapon they hope will make one of the world's largest oil companies bend to their will: the stock market.

The Amsterdam-based environmentalist group announced the purchase of $240,000 worth of Royal Dutch/Shell Group equity to try to pressure the Anglo-Dutch energy conglomerate to build a huge solar panel production plant.

The investment was a milestone for the activists, who are better known for their headline-grabbing sabotage missions against underwater nuclear testing, toxic waste dumping and other ecological threats.

''We are trying to play their own game,'' said Greenpeace spokesman Sander van Egmond. ''The shareholders own the company. It's a very direct way of influencing the executives.''

The purchase of 4,400 shares gives Greenpeace only a tiny percentage of Shell's total stock and offers the group no real leverage over the company. But it meets the minimum required to allow Greenpeace to communicate via the stock exchange with other shareholders, whose identities are otherwise kept secret.

The group hopes to use the right to communicate to drum up support in advance of a May 9 shareholders' meeting that will discuss a proposal to have Shell build a factory producing 5 million solar panels a year.

Greenpeace power to persuade other owners of Shell stock to consider Greenpeace's proposals, rather than obtaining any real leverage over the company.

To woo backing from the owners of the remaining 2.14 billion Amsterdam-listed shares of the company, Greenpeace commissioned a study from consulting group KPMG estimating that Shell could get a 15 percent return on investment in solar energy.

''We think we have a good argument,'' said Van Egmond.

Shell spokesman Henk Bunder said the firm was ''very happy'' with Greenpeace's investment and welcomed its activists to speak at the shareholders' meeting.

''We also see solar as a business and we see growth in that business,'' he said. Shell, however, envisions a gradual expansion into solar energy after market demand grows, Bunder said.

According to Van Egmond, the investment was financed with a mix of options in a way ''so that we don't make any profit or losses on it.''

In a similar move, Greenpeace said it is working with a group of owners of more than 150,000 shares of British Petroleum-Amoco to oppose that firm's Northstar oil pipeline project at an April 13 general meeting.

The new strategy is worlds away from previous Greenpeace campaigns, when its members intercepted freighters on the high seas and shackled themselves to the gates of pollution-belching industrial plants.

Indeed, it was against Shell that Greenpeace scored one of its biggest coups five years ago, occupying a disused North Sea oil platform, the Brent Spar, and refusing to budge until company abandoned plans to ditch the hulking structure at sea.

However, the organization has suffered a slump in donations and membership as interest in its confrontational tactics has waned.

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