ShellNews.net: Royal Dutch Shell farcical No. 2 ranking in the 2005 “Accountability Rating” published in FORTUNE magazine: Tuesday 27 September 2005 08.15am ET
By Alfred Donovan
27 Sept 2005
How much faith can investors/stakeholders have in a rating methodology capable of conjuring up a ranking which has no relationship to reality?
Royal Dutch/Shell Group is No. 2 in the rankings of the 2005 “Accountability Rating” announced on 22nd September in Fortune magazine. This is a rating on corporate responsibility of the prestigious FORTUNE Global 100 companies. The Accountability Rating is apparently not a measure of how good or bad a company is, but supposedly how smart. It follows that by removing or diminishing the ethical dimension in a corporate rating assessment, a bad company can be made to look good.
The following are extracts from an introduction to the 2005 Accountability Rating: -
“How accountable are the world’s largest corporations? Which businesses are prepared to align their strategies with society's needs, and which are paying only lip service to their responsibilities? The answers are revealed by the Accountability Rating, a tool for measuring the extent to which companies put responsible practices at the heart of their business. The Accountability Rating was developed by leading CSR consultancy csrnetwork and international think-tank AccountAbility, and launched in 2004. Each year, we apply the Rating to the Fortune Global 100® – the world’s largest companies by gross revenue.”
The ratings assessment methodology includes consideration of corporate governance, including whether senior executives properly consider stakeholder issues when formulating corporate policy.
The preamble to a Fortune magazine article about the ratings says: “A BP spokesman David Bickerton, whose company came out as No. 1 in the ratings is quoted in the same article (“Managing Beyond the Bottom Line”), as saying: "Responsibility is about how embedded ethical issues are in decision-making within the organization."
One of the brains behind the Accountability Ratings, Simon Zadek, the CEO of AccountAbility (AKA “Institute of social and ethical accountability") is also founding Chair of the Ethical Trading Initiative. He says: "It's a business, not a moral, rating. It looks at the world's biggest corporations and asks, do they understand how to create and exploit effective business opportunities by addressing the needs of the poor? Do they understand how to make money by investing in environmentally sound business practices?”
Judged on its scandal plagued record in recent years, Shell would surely be at the bottom of any corporate rating assessment based on purely moral considerations. I am also confident in saying that the population of Ogoniland would take serious issue with any notion that Shell helps the poor. I believe they would say that the reverse is the case. Likewise, members of local populations around Port Arthur, Texas, the Sakhalin project in Russia and the Corrib pipeline project in Ireland, may find any claim that Shell is investing in environmentally sound business practices to be highly questionable. A story in the Daily Telegraph published on 26 September 2005 concerning the Corrib project states: “10,000 to march in support of jailed pipeline protesters”. The unprecedented march takes place in Dublin this week.
It is my contention that placing Royal Dutch Shell at No 2 in the rankings completely undermines the credibility of the entire rankings. Even if Shell’s misdeeds catalogued in this article do not fall entirely within the judging criteria for the ratings, I would argue that the high ranking gives a false impression about the corporate behaviour of this ethically challenged multinational giant. If my analysis is right, investors, particularly those with an ethical agenda, will be misled. Rightly or wrongly, the fact that the ratings were produced by commercial organizations -both AccountAbility and CSRnetwork have clients, partners, and members among the FORTUNE Global 100 - could unfairly give rise to scepticism that the ratings are nothing more than a PR exercise involving smoke and mirrors designed to project a favourable image for even the worst companies.
So how much reliance should investors place in the 2005 Accountability Rating? To be blunt, the high rating for Shell is an absolute nonsense. Since this is a strong condemnation, it is appropriate to explain at some length the rationale behind that conclusion. If the ratings are so wrong in relation to Shell, why should anyone, particularly investors, give any credence to the ratings for other companies in the same rankings list?
Since the ranking results have been released in September 2005, it is reasonable to assume that the data from which the rankings were compiled stems mainly from activities in 2004. It is therefore salient to note that 2004 has been aptly described in the press as Shell’s “Annus Horribilis”. It was in January 2004 that the news first broke about the Shell reserves scandal. It seems that the deluge of adverse publicity that continues to this day (which has destroyed Shell’s reputation) was missed by those responsible for the “Accountability Rating”, or was not deemed relevant.
The following sampling of news headlines and associated story extracts is self explanatory: -
The Times: How Shell blew a hole in a 100-year reputation: January 10, 2004: IN the space of a few minutes on a dull January morning, one of Britain’s biggest and most respected companies ruined a reputation that had been built up over a century.
The Independent: Lies, cover-ups, fat cats and an oil giant in crisis: 20 April 2004: Shell admits deceiving shareholders; Sacked chairman savaged in report: Shell was embroiled yesterday in Britain's biggest corporate scandal for almost 20 years after it admitted a three-year plan to deceive its shareholders. The City reacted with astonishment after the crisis-stricken multinational released details from an internal report that exposed how the company had deliberately overstated its oil and gas reserves for several years.
London Evening Standard: Shell 'has lied for 10 years': 25 June 2004: EMBATTLED oil giant Shell has been dealt another blow with the filing of a new multi-billion dollar US class action against dozens of directors. The action accuses the company of falsifying its reserves for almost 10 years… the lawsuit accuses 27 of Shell's current and past directors and senior executives of breach of fiduciary duty, abuse of control, mismanagement, fraud and unjust enrichment.
The Times: SHELL SHOCK: The Money Programme provides a clear and merciless indictment of Shell, a company that prided itself on being a safe investment for widows and orphans: July 10, 2004: Its proven reserves were exaggerated by 4.5 billion barrels. When Sir Philip became chairman, his successor, Walter van de Vijver, was appalled and fired off numerous warnings. “I am becoming sick and tired,” he wrote, “of lying about the extent of our reserves.”
Financial Times: Governance: Managers look for the moral dimension: “Post-Enron, post-Shell, post-WorldCom, post-Parmalat”: 7 August 2004
The Observer: Bad publicity - not goodbye, but good buy: “Shell illustrates how a steady barrage of negative publicity can bring a company to its knees”: “The company's reputation is now in tatters”: "We list the latest batch of leaders and laggards in the corporate publicity league in the accompanying table. These rankings are based upon news reports in the last three months. The current '10 worst' list is led by Shell.": Sunday July 4, 2004
No multinational has ever received such a sustained barrage of negative publicity. It is relevant to note that the above article announced the Thomson Intermedia corporate publicity league rankings, which provided a completely different result to the 2005 Accountability Rating.
In my view the finding that Shell is the second smartest company in the FORTUNE 100 is also nonsense. The facts about Royal Dutch Shell, as opposed to its apparently highly effective multimillion dollar global brain washing campaigns (e.g. Profits and Principles), indicate that Shell management is far from being smart. Almost everything in their control turns into a disaster. The only saving grace has been the one factor over which Shell management has no obvious involvement: the high price of oil.
With regards to assessing whether Shell management only pays lip service to governance issues, there are a number of matters which need to be considered. Taken as a whole, they provide conclusive evidence that Shell has had the most incompetent, dishonest management of any multinational, and that there is a sinister side to Shell. I can personally testify to this fact, as will become evident.
I tried to set the alarm bells ringing prior to the reserves scandal. For example, the following is an extract from my letter to Her Majesty, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in March 1999 (the Dutch Royal family is the largest investor in Royal Dutch Shell): -
“Although it is highly obnoxious for a multi-national to act oppressively against small traders, as far as I know, such conduct is not illegal. It is however even more repugnant given the false image of ethical trading projected by the Statement of General Business Principles published by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group. Regretfully, in reality (based on our horrendous experience), there appears to be a culture of deception and cover-up deeply ingrained at the highest levels of Shell.”
Unfortunately for Shell shareholders my analysis proved to be 100% accurate. Deception and cover-up at the highest levels of Shell were the key factors in the subsequent reserves scandal.
The scandal brought about the end of Royal Dutch/Shell in its former Byzantine guise. The recently unified company Royal Dutch Shell plc was born out of the unholy mess created by the reserves debacle.
Shell has also been castigated in the press about its horrendous treatment of British investors in Royal Dutch who were faced with huge tax liabilities resulting from the merger of Royal Dutch/Shell. This is despite the fact that Shell paid $115 million (USD) in professional fees for the merger. Shell has just performed an embarrassing volte-face in response to the avalanche of criticism and offered new tax-free merger terms to the “refusnicks”. However, the U-turn will now inevitably incur the wrath of other shareholders who had already accepted the terms of the “final” offer and have been left with multi-million pound tax bills. An article in the Daily Telegraph on 24 September 2005 concerning the climb-down said that it demonstrates “that many boardroom fat cats continue to regard individual shareholders with disdain.”
That is not far away from my recently published comment that Shell management treats it shareholders with contempt. Shell directors are Teflon protected by contracts which apparently stipulate that they are bailed out by Shell shareholder funds even if they cheat shareholders by engaging in outright lies, deception and cover-up, as happened in the reserves scandal. The disgraced former Royal Dutch Shell Group Chairman, Sir Philip Watts, still ended up with a package worth over $18 million (USD). That must have helped cushion his departure.
Sir Philip has already given evidence in a US class action lawsuit alleging that he helped to organise and pay for a virtual private army in the oil rich deltas of Nigeria (“Mail On Sunday” article published on 4 April 2004). The case involving 50,000 Ogoni people, including the family of executed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, has recently been given permission to proceed by a US Judge (more details in Item M on the list below).
Stanley Bernstein of Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz LLP, the lead US plaintiff lawyers bringing a class action case against Shell for Pennsylvanian State Retirement Funds, described the scandal on the BBC TV Money Programme in the following terms: “There are a lot of investors and many maybe more investors that were affected by this fraud than any other fraud in history”. The following are extracts from the same programme broadcast on 15 July 2004.
Comments about current Shell Chief Executive, Jeroen van der Veer: "signed statements declaring that the submission known as a 20F was a true and faithful description of Shell’s reserves”; “He signed false financial statements”; “he signed certifications that the financial statements met with SEC guidelines.”
Comments about the Royal Dutch Shell Committee of Managing Directors (the CMD): “And what about the Committee of Managing Directors? They too had received a much stronger warning about fooling the market. Jeroem van der Veer and the rest of the CMD still took no action.”
DESCRIPTIONS USED ABOUT THE CONDUCT OF SHELL MANAGEMENT: “deceit”; “false pretences”; “falsely exaggerating”; “misled the world”; “basically they had been told a lie”; “embellished on the numbers”; “exaggerated the numbers”; “basically we lied to you”; “cover it up”; “doctoring the books”; “inventing numbers”; “certifying the reserve which he knows doesn’t exist”; “reserves replacement and production growth were inflated”; “I am becoming sick and tired of lying about the extent of our reserves”; “cover-up”; “actually destroyed documents”; “the scandal blew up and the company’s reputation carefully nurtured over a century was destroyed”; “Shell has lied intentionally and deceived the public” ; “now they know that Shell lied to them and cost them money”; “a fraud perpetrated over a long period of time”; “a fraud perpetrated by the very heads of the company”.
There was none of the usual caveats which precede statements or comments which would otherwise be labelled as libellous: e.g. “allegedly”. The above descriptions were applied without any such qualification. They were put on record as statements of FACT.
With regard to Jeroen van der Veer, a “Mail on Sunday” article published in the UK on 6 June 2004 stated that he could end up with a 20 year US jail sentence after signing the accounts that massively overstated Shell’s oil and gas reserves. That remains the position.
THE ROSSPORT FIVE
Some three months ago, five courageous Irishman, now known collectively as the “Rossport Five”, were imprisoned at the behest of Royal Dutch Shell for the high crime of opposing Shell’s plans to ruthlessly exploit the national resources of the Irish nation.
Multinational giants such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc are more powerful and influential than many Countries and sometimes have a corrupting influence on national governments, as has been the case with Shell in Nigeria. It is not unknown for past Irish government ministers to be susceptible to corruption. This backdrop perhaps adds to the anxieties about Shell’s plans in Ireland.
The crime of the Rossport Five was to stand up for their principles (and their families) by denying Shell access on their land to lay the potentially hazardous Corrib onshore pipeline. It is important to note that Shell has a far from exemplary track record in respect of Health, Safety, and Environmental issues connected with its projects. An example of Shell’s shortcomings in this regard is provided in item I in the list below.
The following is an extract from a Guardian newspaper article published in the UK on 29 July 2005.
Suddenly, the issue became one of the biggest news stories of the year and, as the Irish Examiner called it, "a major public relations disaster for the Shell corporation". The "Rossport Five" were jailed at the specific request of the company, which had obtained compulsory purchase orders for the land in question - the first time in Irish history that such an order was granted to a private company. The five will remain in jail until they undertake not to obstruct the company. "Shell officials misjudged the situation if they thought to intimidate others by making an example of these men," the Irish Times said. Indeed, July has seen huge rallies in support of the men in Co Mayo and in Dublin, the picketing of Shell garages nationwide, and round-the-clock blockades of the refinery construction site.
The jailing turned out to be a blunder of monumental proportions by Shell management. The pipeline work was halted by the Irish government and ordered to be dismantled because Shell had not obtained the necessary consent to lay it. This meant that the basis of Shell’s injunction which led to the jailing was thrown into doubt because Shell allegedly submitted false evidence to the court. Another repercussion is that Shell has had to make over a hundred Corrib pipeline workers redundant. The pipeline laid without ministerial consent has still not been dismantled. The Corrib pipeline debacle has also resulted in three months worth of almost daily negative publicly for Shell. I have already mentioned the unprecedented planned march by 10,000 protesters taking place in Dublin this week. The Rossport Five have been in jail since June 2005.
Realising that they have got themselves in a hopeless pickle once again, al la Brent Spar, Shell management are desperate to have the Rossport Five released, but without losing face or any legal ground. The latest ploy (last week) was to invite the jailed men to participate in mediation. It is not clear if the mediation was to take place in their jail cells.
The Rossport Five had the good sense to reject the offer. I once suggested that a legal claim that my business had against Shell should be put to mediation. As a sign of good faith my son John and I (he was my business partner) even suggested that a senior Royal Dutch Shell manager from Rotterdam could act as the mediator. Unfortunately we subsequently found it necessary to sue Shell for acting in breach of the agreed terms after they engaged in outrageous trickery (the mediator was innocent of any wrongdoing). Shell subsequently settled the court claim as apart of a wider settlement at an overall cost to Shell shareholders of £125,000.
So who are the high minded virtuous Shell executives ultimately responsible for having the Rossport Five jailed? The two senior board directors at Royal Dutch Shell plc are its CEO, Jeroen van der Veer, and his No.2, Malcolm Brinded, who heads Shell Exploration & Production – the division responsible for the Corrib pipeline. They, along with another of their board member colleagues, Maarten van den Bergh (who is also the Chairman of Lloyds TSB Bank Group) are named Defendants in US Class Action Lawsuits alleging that they engaged in securities fraud in relation to the reserves scandal.
All three signed legal declarations (known as Form 20F) submitted to the US Securities & Exchange Commission (the SEC) which contained materially false information in regards to the volume of Shell’s hydrocarbon reserves.
Shell has already paid a quarter of a billion dollars (USD) in fines imposed by financial regulators and for class action law suit settlements, all arising from the reserves scandal.
Shell shareholders have had to pick up the tab including the cost of paying millions in attorney fees on behalf of the likes of fat cat executives, Van der Veer and Brinded. The most recent settlement – see item K below – was akin to a plea bargain in respect of Van der Veer, Brinded and Van den Bergh. Shell settled to stop the case proceeding. However, another class action (the Bernstein Liebhard & Lifshitz LLP case) is still pending (Item L in the list below).
So who should really be in jail, the self-evidently highly principled Rossport Five, who are in jail for objecting to their rights being trampled on by Shell, or the Royal Dutch Shell Directors who thus far have escaped retribution for their misdeeds?
During the progress of another High Court Action against Shell, my son and I were confronted by a sinister side to Shell after catching red-handed, an uncover agent engaged in a cloak and dagger mission on behalf of Shell, which involved fake documents and deception. After being cornered, Shell in admitted in writing the undercover “activities”.
By coincidence or otherwise we were besieged during the same period by other undercover agents. Threats were made against our witnesses. Burglaries were carried out at my sons’ house, at the home of his key witness and even at his solicitors’ home, all with a similar sinister pattern of activity, with Shell related documents being examined. Shell revealed that other “enquiry” agents were engaged in undisclosed activities on our case, but denied having any connection with the witness intimidation and the burglaries.
Later we discovered to our astonishment that Shell senior directors were simultaneously directors and shareholders in a private spy firm (Hakluyt) closely linked with British Intelligence (MI6) which routinely engaged in the type of activities which had been directed at us. Indeed they were its ultimate spymasters. A front page story in The Sunday Times (on 17 June 2001) revealed that a serving German Secret Service agent worked on a freelance basis on missions involving infiltration, intelligence gathering and sabotage against Shell’s perceived enemies, including for example, Greenpeace and The Body Shop. He was also active in Nigeria in regard to the judicial hanging, on trumped up charges, of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the Nigerian Nobel Laureate, who had engaged in peaceful campaigning against Shell and its despotic partner, the corrupt Nigerian military regime in power at the time. Hakluyt also carried out spying missions for the No. 1 ranked company in the 2005 Accountability Rating: BP.
We were also deluged with written and verbal threats by Shell management and its lawyers. We even received a letter from the then Group Chairman (Sir Mark Moody-Stuart) containing a threat. In response to a challenge by a Shell lawyer, we produced a 7 page letter listing the threats to that date. There have been more threats since then.
The controversies/litigation listed below, which includes some of the previously cited debacles, have all arisen from the gross misjudgement/misdeeds/blundering of Shell management: -
For Shell senior management to reward itself, as it recently did, with the purchase of a fleet of luxury jets against the above backdrop of such incredible dishonesty, misjudgement, and gross ineptitude, is simply obscene.
Now that I have taken you on a tour of the controversies and scandals involving Shell, do you agree that it is preposterous that Shell should be No. 2 in the 2005 Accountability Rating?
Please send any comments to my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Website address: www.royaldutchshellplc.com
*ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alfred Donovan has had business dealings with Shell stretching back almost 50 years. In the 1980’s & 90’s the sales promotion company he founded with his son, John (Don Marketing) created and supplied multimillion dollar national promotions for Shell on an international basis. He and his son probably hold the world record for suing Shell, having subsequently brought a series of court actions: five for breach of confidence or breach of contract, and two for libel. They have never lost a case against Shell. Details about the litigation are published on ShellNews.net, the unique website owned by the Donovan’s. It contains the world’s largest collection of articles, news and reports focused on Royal Dutch Shell and its activities – astonishingly, over 6,000 web pages.
Disclaimer: 'The author (Alfred Donovan) ShellNews.net and the web site RoyalDutchShellplc.com are not endorsed by Royal Dutch Shell plc or affiliated with them in any way.'
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