Tough critique at Shell’s “go to hell” annual meeting

Climate Justice

Tough critique at Shell’s “go to hell” annual meeting

Share on

Shell’s energy transition strategy includes abandonment of its operations in the Nigerian Delta

When Caroline Dennett, the director of consultancy CLOUT, rose to address the company’s Executive Committee at its recent annual general meeting in London, she did so in the spirit of the “civilized debate” that Shell Chair Andrew McKenzie had asked for — and didn’t get, initially. 

More than 100  activists protesting against the firm’s energy transition strategy had previously tried to storm the stage, shouting down CEO Wael Sawan with chants of “Go to hell, Shell.” The protests were over the company’s rejection of Climate Resolution 26 which called on Shell to align its climate targets with the Paris Agreement and commit to absolute carbon emissions cuts by 2030. The company’s position was strongly against adoption, describing the proposal as “unclear, generic, and creating confusion as to Board and shareholder responsibilities.” 

Caroline Dennett at Shell AGM in London

By contrast, Dennett’s attack on the company’s environmental record was delivered in polite but firm terms — and was completely devastating in its dissection of the company’s alleged dissembling. A long-time consultant to Shell who very publicly resigned one year ago (see below), Dennett knows extremely well the gap between the company’s public statements and its actual practices. 

The results indicated these were not a handful of disgruntled workers but represented 30%–40% of their operational workforce.

Her presentation focused on a report about Shell’s alleged failures in safety performance which have polluted the Niger Delta through repeated leaks and spills of oil. She outlined a complete catalog of poor process safety practices reported by Shell Nigeria staff and contractors to her consulting company in an employee survey commissioned by Shell Nigeria at the end of 2021. Results of the survey exposed a record of production pressures, shortcuts, budget restraints, unsafe manpower levels, poor maintenance regimes, including overdue maintenance on safety critical equipment, lack of training, and second-class treatment of contractors who go unpaid for months, unable to feed themselves and their families. The results indicated these were not a handful of disgruntled workers but represented 30%-40% of their operational workforce. The survey’s conclusions were reported to Shell Companies in Nigeria management in January last year.

Dennett summed up her comments to the CEO, the Chair, the Executive Committee and the Board of Directors by asking, “Why do you withhold funding to your own assets, that would enable them to be operated more safely and maintained properly?

“Will you now commit the necessary finances and resources to prevent harm to workers and the communities, to prevent extensive leaks and spills the likes of which we have seen in the Niger Delta for decades and continue to see, with loss of life and health, loss of livelihoods, loss of nature and loss of ecosystems?”

The response was shocking. CEO Sawan said that it was Shell’s intent to withdraw from onshore oil operations in Nigeria. “We have recognized that the risk-reward to operate [there] is no longer tolerable. And that is why we announced a couple of years ago the intent to exit onshore oil in Nigeria, and focus on the gas value chain, the LNG chain, specifically.”

This response, to simply walk away from Shell’s own sorry history in Nigeria, which includes its alleged complicity in the execution of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others, known as the Ogoni Nine in 1995, drew moral outrage from Dennett. 

“The activist’s cry of ‘Go to hell, Shell’ is entirely fair given Shell’s evil actions and unwillingness to acknowledge their sins, show remorse or repent.”

“Shell has clearly stated in real speak they would rather abandon their operations there, to save money, than provide the necessary resources and capital to improve process safety and make good their harms,” Dennett said. “They’ve spent decades exploiting the shit out of the Delta and will now walk away from the Armageddon they have created. The activist’s cry of ‘Go to hell, Shell’ is entirely fair given Shell’s evil actions and unwillingness to acknowledge their sins, show remorse or repent.”

Dennett’s statement echoed her public resignation comments of a year ago, which we published in Climate & Capital Media: “I can no longer work for a company that ignores all the alarms and dismisses the risks of climate change and ecological collapse.”

In a LinkedIn post, an open letter to 1,400 Shell employees, Dennett said she had ended her 11-year working relationship with the company as a safety consultant, publicly and vocally, claiming the company practiced “double talk” on climate issues.

For the record, here’s a reminder of why her trenchant criticisms carry such weight: “Memo to Shell: You’re Fired.”

Featured photo: Protest against Shell, Rotterdam, 2021

Written by

John Howell

John Howell is a writer, editor, and broadcaster who oversees the Climate Finance Weekly newsletter and advises on communications and media strategy. He was co-founder, editorial director, and chief of thought leadership for 3BL Media, for which he managed all original editorial content, wrote, and edited newsletters, and created the Brands Taking Stands initiative. He has worked as an editor and contributor for Elle, Artforum, and High Times magazines, developed new media for Hearst Magazines, and created communications for Calvin Klein, Polo/Ralph Lauren, and The Body Shop. He lives and works in New Hampshire and Maine.