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Fri, Jun 25, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Activists slam Shell's corporate practices

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Oil giant Shell's battered reputation took another pounding yesterday on Wednesday when Friends of the Earth and activists from around the world accused the Anglo-Dutch energy group of polluting communities, damaging wildlife and endangering human health.

Tony Juniper, Friends's executive director, said Shell -- a self-styled pioneer in sustainable development -- had exaggerated its social and environmental performance in the same way as it had overstated its oil and gas reserves.

The devastating critique, in the form of an alternative annual re-port, Beyond the Shine, condemns the company for using double standards in rich and poor regions and making empty promises about making good the damage it has allegedly wrought.

It comes just days before Monday's annual meetings in London and The Hague, where shareholders are being pressed by campaigners to register substantial protests against Shell's global activities.

The activists -- from Nigeria,Siberia, the US and South Africa -- were scheduled to meet financial institutions in London yesterday to urge backing for their case. Several local groups in areas where Shell operates have launched lawsuits against the company.

But Shell stood by its record, saying it was in continuous dialogue with local groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at a senior level and had taken a series of practical steps in the past year to improve its performance in corporate social responsibility.

The fresh campaign comes amid renewed demands for legislation to force company directors to report on the social and environmental impacts of their firm's activities.

Juniper, insisting that the voluntarist approach promoted by Shell had failed, said directors should be given new legal duties to take "reasonable steps to mitigate, reduce, minimize or eliminate negative social and environmental impact."

His group also wants the next government to reform company law so overseas communities can seek redress and compensation in the UK for human rights and environmental abuses carried out by British companies and their subsidiaries.

Outlining such abuses in "fenceline" communities, Hilton Kelley, founder of Community In Power and Development in Port Arthur, Texas, claimed the Shell refinery was emitting 200 to 300 times the allowed emissions of chemicals -- many of them carcinogenic.

Kelley, who is taking legal action against Shell, said: "We are not going to allow our women and kids to suffer in silence."

He said children suffered from asthma and tumors while women had had their uteruses and ovaries removed.

A Shell spokesman said: "We recognize the scale of the challenges we face. We believe we are making considerable progress."

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