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UK: Shell Oil Accused of Harming Communities

by Sanjay SuriInter Press Service
April 22nd, 2003

The oil giant Shell is failing to protect communities near its installations in several countries, says a new report from Friends of the Earth.

The report 'Failing the Challenge: The Other Shell Report' was unveiled in London Wednesday at a hall across from the Queen Elizabeth II centre where the company held its annual general meeting.

Activists from several countries said the fallout from Shell oil refineries and depots is causing a high incidence of cancer, asthma and skin conditions, they said.

Shell sent its representatives to the Friends of the Earth meeting, but declined to comment on the accusations. Friends of the Earth sent their own representatives to the meeting on the strength of shares the group has bought in Shell.

Shell managers had held a meeting with members of Friends of the Earth Tuesday, a day before the report was due to be released. "We are withholding the contents of that meeting," Judith Robinson from the Environmental Health Fund in the U.S. told media representatives at the launch of the report Wednesday.

Shell managers declined to comment on the report despite several requests from IPS.

Friends of the Earth made an agreement not to go public over its meeting with Shell managers, contrary to the stand taken by some of the activists it had assembled.

"We have refused to talk to Shell because they set a condition that we should not talk to the press," Desmond D'Sa, chairman of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, told media representatives at the launch of the report.

"They want to meet us, but they want to gag us," he said. "We want unconditional access to information. Shell is in effect doing what the apartheid regime did in South Africa earlier."

Desmond D'Sa said Shell is using "dirty technology" at the refinery it runs in south Durban along with British Petroleum. "That is not the technology they use in Denmark," he said. "Why the double standards?" Local people have high levels of asthma because of the high levels of chemicals emission, D'Sa said.

"We have a high concentration of cases of asthma and cancer in our area," said Hilton Kelly who lives near Shell's Port Arthur refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. "One in five families has someone who has asthma or cancer."

Kelly said many people have developed rashes from chemicals deposited on the skin. "There is a direct correlation between chemicals and illnesses," he said. "We want those emissions reduced."

The activists spoke of several kinds of danger to health from Shell installations. Leaks and fires at the Shell oil depot in Pandacan, a suburb of Manila in the Philippines. "have resulted in hundreds of residents being hospitalized over the years," said Hope Esquillo Tura from the United Front to Oust Oil Depots in the Philippines.

"Scaling down will not address issues around public safety and security," she said. "Arrangements are made between Shell and the local authorities, but this process needs to be more inclusive."

"They are like a colonial force running the communities," said Oronto Douglas from Friends of the Earth in Nigeria. "But we want access to our resources."

Douglas said that the Tuesday meeting had been held with relatively junior Shell managers. "There seemed to be a willingness to do something, but we have been listening to their rhetoric for years," he said. "They should get back to us within a specific time frame."

The Friends of the Earth report says that Shell had committed itself to sustainable development eight years ago, and promoted its so-called "green" image to the world. But "the reality is a far cry from the green promises in glossy brochures and advertising campaigns," the report says. "Shell is failing the sustainability challenge."

This kind of "greenwash" is misleading the public and investors, and must be stopped, the activists demanded.

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