Shelling Africa: Corporate Responsibility Is Good Business

The Guardian just reported last week that over the last decade Shell fuelled human rights abuses in Nigeria, paying large sums to armed militants for a host of reasons, all of which ignored the human suffering being caused in favor of profits.

Platform, the organization that researched the allegations and which The Guardian cited, heard testimony and saw contracts that implicate Shell in regularly paying armed militants in the oil rich Niger Delta, though the specific reasons why are obfuscated.  Shell admits that from 2006 onwards, the company paid thousands of dollars every month to armed militants in the town of Rumuekpe, in the full knowledge that the money was used to sustain three years of conflict, which resulted in the loss of untold lives.  Beyond the simple fact that Shell was, if the allegations stand, guilty of funding bloodshed, the continued conflict allowed them to operate outside environmental standards, as well as profit from a population that was not positioned to organize and insist on equitable compensation.

Case in point, a Shell company manager commented that the money slated for the “community development” program ended up in questionable hands. This led to Shell shutting down t a third of its oil production in August of 2011 after 12 oil spills in the Adibawa area. Shell’s response was to blame it’s abysmal environmental record on security issues – issues that stemmed from their own mismanagement. Not surprisingly, Shell continues to deny any responsibility, even as it directly and indirectly pushes the region into deeper into poverty, environmental disaster and bloodshed.

Why does it matters? Well, beyond the simple fact that what has happened is a demonstration of the horrors that continue as a result of colonial occupation and exploitation of the world’s poor to swell the purses of a wealthy countries, there are broader ramifications that impact the global community every day.  If the moral implications aren’t enough to drive people to call Shell out (among others), then selfish motivations might work.  Even the most ardent Tea Partier celebrating Rick Perry’s record of executions should be able to embrace that.  (I won’t bother addressing the environmental issues if for the simple reason that it would result in a book, not a blog entry.)

First, while there are short-term returns in the form of lower oil prices, instability in the region drives costs up.  It also helps further a system of instability in the markets as violence, regime change and disruptions to supply become standard operating procedure.  Yes, prices are driven down when no regulation exists and the local population is kept outside the process, but the lack of regulation and responsibility leads to more disruption over the long haul.

Which leads to the second point, that of more expansive conflict.  The sort of environmental and human disregard demonstrated by Shell leads to chaos and conflict.  That foments revolution.  Now, we could always argue that as long as revolutions stay contained within the borders of a single nation it’s no concern of our.  But revolutions don’t stay contained. And in a world of rapid, global communication the ease with which conflicts spread outside traditional borders is unmatched in human history.  What begins as a conflict at home quickly spreads to the houses of the people seen as oppressors.

Both of these issues come back to haunt us because they lead to economic instability across the globe. Fuel prices and political turmoil ultimate impact everyone, no matter how detached we may want to be. Food supplies, immigration, manufacturing, etc. are all influenced by what transpires in places like Nigeria, whether we want to believe it or not. Good, ethical policies and business practices lead to growth over the long-term.  And that benefits everyone.

On the positive side, good can come out of horrible events and bad management.  It frequently sparks innovation and the development of new ideas and practices.  Contrary to the sentiments of the far Left, corporations do in fact create jobs and can, CAN, improve the lives of people. The catch is that they need to be reminded by those very people that they are not devoid of responsibility.





Published by gavinjohnston67

Take an ex-chef who’s now a full-fledge anthropologist and set him free to conduct qualitative research, ethnography, brand positioning, strategy and sociolinguistics studies and you have Gavin. He is committed to understand design and business problems by looking at them through an anthropological lens. He believes deeply in turning research findings into actionable results that provide solid business strategies and design ideas. It's not an insight until you do something with it. With over 18 years of experience in strategy, research, and communications, he has done research worldwide for a diverse set of clients within retail, legal, banking, automotive, telecommunications, health care and consumer products industries.

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  1. Thanks for reminding us that the issues of Shell and its management in Africa have not gone away just because it is not reported on by mainstream media anymore. Oil company funding of armed conflict is not a new thing. The self interest served by corporates who stir up and encourage the ongoing warfare that destroys people, and ongoing destruction of our world, is a short sighted tactic used by those who are more interested in grabbing as much for themselves as they can – with no care or interest in the long term effects (by which time they will be long gone and living a life of luxury in the Carribean!). The real question is, if we cant change the world view of these people (which I dont think we can), then how do we stop their corrupt behaviour? How do they get into positions of such power and what can be done to make sure they dont?

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