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The Planet

    Shell Games

    Don't spend that dollar! At least not on Shell products. It can be as simple as that to let a company know you won't stand for its grim record on human rights and the environment.

    Boycotts let consumers cast a vote with their money, and while they can be a financial hit to a company, bankrupting a business isn't always the objective.

    "We never had the delusion that we could affect Shell's bottom line, but what we hoped to do -- and are doing -- is affect their public image," says the Club's Human Rights and the Environment Campaign Director Stephen Mills. Board members in 1995 voted to support a boycott against Shell for its complicity in the hanging of Nigerian playwright and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa.

    "We had a responsibility to let the world's largest Nigerian oil exporter know that we would not tolerate this kind of activity, and we felt nothing short of a boycott would send that message," Mills says.

    The Club rarely uses boycotts. In 1974 it supported two; one targeted products from Japan and Russia to protest the countries' whaling practices, and the other was against yellow fin tuna to call attention to the porpoise deaths resulting from catching it.

    To promote the current boycott, the Club has used events like Shell's annual meeting in London and The Hague as hooks for publicity; has picketed Shell stations in Canada, New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and other places; and held candlelight vigils and rallies, like the one in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in March.

    And Shell is listening: At its last shareholders' meeting, the company adopted a new policy to "express support for human rights...and to give proper regard to health, safety and the environment." But, says Mills, "We've seen no evidence that the company's actions will match its rhetoric."
    The Club has made it clear that the boycott -- and the rallies and picketing and postcard campaigns -- will be called off only when Royal Dutch Shell, which owns the company's Nigerian operation, cleans up its existing pollution, agrees to apply U.S. pollution standards to its operation in Africa and pays fair compensation to the tribal peoples affected by its activities there.

    In the meantime, the shadow cast on Shell's image has not gone unnoticed. Mills says he recently met with an oil-company representative who wanted to know what his company could do -- short of pulling out of Burma -- to avoid a Club boycott in reaction to environmental problems there. Mills' response was that the company should pull out of Burma.


    To take action: Boycott Shell products and tell the company why. Contact: Jack Little, President of Shell Oil, U.S., P.O. Box 2463, Houston, TX 77252; (800) 248-4257, fax: (713) 241-4044; webmaster@shellus.com.


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