Shell has human rights rethink

Oil giant to review principles after Nigeria controversy

Simon Beavis and Paul Brown

The Guardian, 8th November '96

SHELL, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, yesterday tried to quash 18 months of international vilification for its role in Nigeria and its environmental record by announcing it is to include a specific reference to human rights in its general statement of business principles.

The move follows a series of meetings with human rights groups. It comes two days be fore the first anniversary of what John Major called the "judicial murder" of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Ogoni leader who was executed by the Nigerian regime for his protests over Shell's exploitation of his homeland. The company endured worldwide condemnation for its failure to intervene on behalf of the nine Ogoni leaders killed, and has remained under pressure since. Its stance of non-interference had been widely interpreted as support for the Nigerian regime.

A spokesman for the company said last night that Shell was currently reviewing its business principles statement and "looking positively" at including a clear reference to human rights. The group had publicly supported the Universal Declariation of Human Rights and now wanted to see if that could be explicitly reflected in the business principles statement.

The Shell announcement was prompted by an earlier statement from the Dutch Christian group Pax Christi and Amnesty International which said the oil group had indicated in meetings that it would incorporate the declaration.

The pressure groups also said that Shell would declare that "it is legitimate for [Shell] to speak out against serious violations of human rights" and that its principle of political non-interference would be "redefined".

Shell admitted that the statement from the two groups was a "fair reflection of the meeting". But the spokesman said the group would need to have several more meetings with Pax Christi, Amnesty and other pressure groups to refine several points.

Shell has faced a barrage of criticism over Nigeria and for its handling of the disposal of its Brent Spar oil platform.

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