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Crashing the corporate party: Bogoni in the Hague
Thursday May 17, 2007 14:36 by Bob and Eve - Shell to Sea/ Rossport Solidarity Camp
Account of the Shell AGM in the Hague by Shell to Sea shareholders.
Tuesdays Shell AGM in the Hague was attended by an unusual block of shareholders: five members of the Shell to Sea campaign, including recent recipient of the Goldman prize for environmental protection Willie Corduff, travelled to Holland to address the board and shareholders on the topic of the Corrib gas fiasco. This year the company celebrates it's 100 anniversary and it is little surprise to see that it is still the same force for destruction of people and environment that a look at its history reveals it to be. Those affected by Shells current endeavours in Ireland thought it high time that they give those responsible the benefit of their perspective. In 2005 fifty Shell shares were donated to the campaign by a sympathiser and these were distributed among various Shell to Sea campaigners enabling them to attend the Shell AGM. Since the powers that be in the company have proven so reluctant to face those people who their operations endanger, the mountain had to come to Mohammed...
Along with Willie were two local campaigners and two from the Rossport Solidarity Camp (your intrepid authors). The campers decided to leave Ireland earlier in order to attend a conference on climate change in London and to give a presentation on the Shell to Sea campaign in Amsterdam. The climate change event was held in the London School of Economics and consisted of a series of talks on topics from the science of climate change to building an international campaign and the role of trade unions in environmental protection. Of particular inerest to us was a talk given by an activist involved in the campaign against the planned LNG pipeline in Wales. This event was attended by a campaigner from a Welsh village who have suffered many of the same problems that those in Rossport and the wider Erris community have had to deal with.
The talk in Amsterdam was held in a social centre called Broeinest, a former carpentry school which was squatted and later legalised. The building contains a cafe and the offices of several environmental organisations, including ASEED. Interest in the situation in Mayo was keen and some who attended had been involved in campaigning against Shell for their support of the South African Apartheid regieme in defiance of UN sanctions. While in the city, we were able to meet with members of Milieu Defensie (the Dutch wing of Friends of the Earth) who were themselves to be attending the Shell AGM to raise the issue of the company's continuing trail of destruction in Nigeria.
Erris natives and campers were reunited in the Hague the next day. The AGM took place in a circus theatre (which we felt to be very appropriate)near the shore. Members of Milieu Defensie staged an action outide centering on the fact that Shell have still not cleaned up their mess in Nigeria or recompensed the communities affected. People dressed as accountants bearing briefcases marked "Shells Unpaid Bills" encouraged shareholders to consider the companies failure to pay for the damage they have done. They also erected a large banner emblazoned "Shell flares and splills, Nigerians pay the bills!"
We were told that Jeroen van der Veer himself would be coming outside for a "meet and greet", something he does every year. After a Milieu Defensie member had talked to him about the Nigerian situation, camper Bob took the opportunity to introduce himself and invite Mr van der Veer to come to Mayo to acquaint himself with the situation first hand. The offer was neither accepted nor rejected. He expressed sorrow at the existence of conflict restated the companies apology for the imprisonment of the Rossport Five and was promptly told that apologies and false promises are one thing whilst real willingness to confront the problems is another.
The doors of the conference centre were heavily guarded and as we made our way inside our bags were searched by secuity staff: cameras and flyers were not allowed. Shell executives and high profile shareholders briskly dashed across the conference centre fourcourt flanked by bodyguards. Inside the lobby was scattered with elderly couples and Shell staff chatted in cliques. We registered our sharecards inside the lobby and were issued with electronic hand held voting machines, before making our way to the auditorium. The auditorium was furnished with red velvet seats and at the top of the theatre the stage was set our with seats for the directors and a screen showing the video link up from London. We took seats near the microphone stations set out at points in the audience with the intention of asking some questions.
The AGM opened up with an address from Joran Ollila, new company chairman, and followed by a welcoming speech by Joren van der Veer. Van der Veer's speech was thick with self congratulation. He praised the excellent performance of 'your company', describing the way in which Shell is meeting the 'energy challenge' in a way that is both 'sustainable' and 'responsible'. Van der Veer outlined Shell's strategy of investing in large scale projects with longlife assets, "that will be there for decades." A statement of particular interest for those campaigning against Corrib.
After the speeches shareholders from the floor had an oportunity to ask qustions. The first to the mics were Milieu Defensie campaigners posing questions about Shell's operations in the Niger delta with particular reference to the ongoing issue of gas flaring. Several questions were asked about Nigeria by campaignes both in The Hague and London. The issue of the Corrib project was mentioned by several of those who asked questions on Nigeria. After questions on Shell’s operations in Nigeria had been dealt with a number of more profit focused shareholders took an opportunity to speak. One shareholder voiced his boredom with ‘single issue Nigeria’and asked why his shares had not been making more money. A representative from a Dutch shareholders group speaking from the Hague expressed concern over Shell’s focus on sustainability as outlined by Jeroen van der Veer stating that he was in favour of the environment but that Shell must be careful not to throw money out the window.
When the time finally came for Willie Corduff to speak, after standing in line for two hours, he delivered a dignified explanation of the position he, his family and community had been put in by Shell. He asked the shareholders to consider what Shell does to produce profits for them. John Monaghhan subsequently delivered a statement on behalf of the Shell to Sea campaign. His statement described the Corrrib project for the benefit of those who might be un familiar with it, and set forth the reasons why such massive opposition exists. He told the board and shareholders that “there will be more delays”. He appealed to the board to “go back to the drawing board on the Corrib gas project” and told them “we’ll helpyou solve the problem”. He continued :“We can be reasoned with, but never bullied”.The statement informed the listeners that “Alternative development options have never been fully explored, and this fact has been well documented. Meaningful community consultation has never existed. Community concern has never been addressed. The proposed expanding in-land refinery complex will never be acceptable.”
In response to the arguments put forth by the Rossport residents, head of exploration and production Malcom Brinded trotted out the same line that they have been pushing in Ireland. He insisted that they fullfilled all the government requirements (which they have not) met with the full approval of the “independent”Advantica safety report (which actually contains quite a few criticisms despite its laughably narrow terms of reference) and were implementing the recommendations of the government appointed mediator Peter Casells (which came from a completely invalid process and offered a very misleading picture of what was required of Shell to settle this dispute). Along with the usual Shell nonsense he offered some outright porkie pies, claiming that Shell employed 350 local people and there were no more than a dozen or so protesters. Interestingly, there was quite a visible level of consternation and discomfort from the board members, with a lot of tie-loosening and fidgety body language.
The boards claims were disputed by a shareholder speaking from London via the video link up. Camilla Saunders who has visited the area on several occaisions disputed what Brinded had said especially on the point of the numbers who were opposed to the project. Another shareholder who spoke from London was Reverend Bob Nind of the Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility. He and another member of the ECCR had been to Erris a few months back and had met with Shell personnel as well as members of the community. He took particular issue with the mediators report, drawing attention to the fact that no consultation with the community beyond the Rossport 5 had actually been involved, and that it presented a false picture of general assent for the projet. He also brought up the fact that the Advantica report had no remit to look at anything other than the current pipeline design and was far too narrow in its terms. He asked that alternative development concepts be considered. He drew the boards attention to the fact that the local parish priest had recently spoken out against the Shell project.
Erris resident Terrence Conway gave his perspective on the situation and when obviously annoyed chairman Jorma Ollila demanded that he hurry up and ask a question, he asked “When are you going to stop lying?” John Monaghan asked if the directors were going to reconsider their current design concept. When he was told that they felt no reason to, he advised them to change their minds before they had another Nigeria on its hands.The Shell to Sea contingent left the AGM after the Corrib question had been discussed, not really having much desire to sit through another few hours of obfuscatory nonsense.
Later that day, we met with Krista van Velzen, an MP of the Socialist Party. We were taken on a tour of the Dutch parliament and learned a little about the world of politics in Holland. She offered her support and expressed an interest in helping us raise the profile of our campiagn in Holland.
Photos to follow!