I've been running my own personal protest against Shell for more than a decade, so I'll be delighted to see the sale of its petrol stations and its blood-stained brand removed from this country
International oil company, Shell, this week sold its New Zealand petrol stations – what it calls its downstream assets – and within three years the Shell brand will disappear from this country. I'd like to think I played a part in driving the company from our shores, with its tail between its legs.
I haven't darkened the door of a Shell petrol station since 1997, when I interviewed Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr, the son of Nigerian author and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who gave his life protesting against Shell's corporate misbehaviour in his homeland. It's been a personal protest of immense to my wife and others. We've gone without snacks at times, almost run out of petrol at others, but that company hasn't got a cent from me for over a decade, and so I can only conclude that my determined stance has played a part in its decision to sell up.
Watkin 1, Shell 0.
Saro-Wiwa Snr. formed the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) in 1990, outraged at the environmental damage caused by Shell and the suffering of his Ogoni people, who live in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
I'll let the excellent Wiwa vs Shell website take up the story:
Royal Dutch Shell, plc (Shell) began oil production in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria in 1958 and has a long history of working closely with the Nigerian government to quell popular opposition to its presence in the region. From 1990-1995, Nigerian soldiers, at Shell’s request and with Shell’s assistance and financing, used deadly force and conducted massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people living in the Niger Delta to repress a growing movement in protest of Shell.
On November 10, 1995, nine Ogoni leaders (the “Ogoni Nine”) were executed by the Nigerian government after being falsely accused of murder and tried by a specially-created military tribunal. Those executed were internationally acclaimed environmental and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, prominent youth leader John Kpuinen, Dr. Barinem Kiobel, Saturday Doobee, Nordu Eawo, Daniel Gbokoo, Paul Levera, Felix Nuate and Baribor Bera. The detention, trial, and executions of the Ogoni Nine were the result of collusion between Shell and the military government to suppress opposition to Shell’s oil operations in Nigeria.
Those claims were the basis of a massive lawsuit in the United States, which last year was settled by Shell on the eve of the trial, which was to have revealed extensive details of the company's activities in Nigeria.
Shell agreed to pay US$15.5 million to the Ogoni claimants, US$5 million of which went to education in Ogoniland. Shell claimed it had been happy to go to court and that the allegations were without merit, but as the New York Times wrote, the payout was "a striking sum given that the company has denied any wrongdoing".
Quoted in the Guardian, Jennie Green, a lawyer with the Centre for Constitutional Rights who initiated the lawsuit in 1996, said:
"This was one of the first cases to charge a multinational corporation with human rights violations, and this settlement confirms that multinational corporations can no longer act with the impunity they once enjoyed."
Of course, I'm kidding about my influence on Shell's decision. But I do so with serious intent. I'm genuinely pleased to see such a tarnished brand disappear from our landscape; although it's disappointing the driller that caused so much damage in Nigeria are allowed to practise its trade here.
But more than that, I'm a believer in stands of conscience, however minor or unheralded. It was the smallest token of respect, but doesn't it give some little meaning to Saro-Wiwa's death if someone he's never met, on the other side of the world, takes a stand, inspired by his courage? I'd like to think so.
It's been pointed out to me over the years that there are any number of other protests I could have made against other companies. And there have been one or two. But I'm sure I've given my money to other companies which have acted in a way that I find reprehensible.
But you pick your battles in this life; do what you can.
The Shell sell-out is a double celebration, because it also represents a bit of reverse corporate colonisation – a multinational being bought out by local interests. Infratil and the Super Fund have banded together to buy up those downstream assets, which includes a crucial 17% stake in the Marsden Point Oil Refinery.
As I've written before, the gigantic Super Fund has been worried about how it can increase its investments in New Zealand without skewing the whole market. It has fretted that, "institutional quality offerings are few and far between" and "the pool of local managers with the necessary institutional qualities is limited".
In the Shell assets and Infratil it has obviously found solutions to those problems.
At a time when we're trying to figure out how to handle an attempt by a Chinese company to expand into our dairy industry, it's good to see assets staying in the hands of local businesses and institutions which have some loyalty to the balance sheet of New Zealand Inc.
Come to think of it, why isn't the Super Fund looking into buying up those Crafar Farms and making them available to New Zealand sharemilkers?
But that's a debate for another day. Today, I'm satisfied to merely say good riddance to Shell. I for one won't miss you and your type.