Shell hides its arguments

Shell has been relatively lucky from a PR point of view in Nigeria - it gets criticised regularly, but there is nothing like the publicity that would engorge it if it had similar problems in the US or Europe. But court cases have a habit of bringing these things into the open, and a new one - brought in London on behalf of local communities - again raises the question of who is responsible for cleaning up the oil spills that dog onshore production.

I have no idea of the rights and wrong, and we will be able to read the arguments as they they are played out in the High Court. But I am surprised that the one place people will go to find out Shell's line - its corporate website - has become so silent on the issue. It has recently been relaunched. The previous site had a good section on Nigeria, leading through to briefing notes and other material on its country site, but the only links to these I could find on are here: Investors > Environmental, social and governance > Environmental and social > Key SRI topics. If it has said 'How can we bury this most effectively?', it could hardly have done better.

What I find most odd is that the Nigeria site provides data that appears to support Shell's main argument - that the great majority of oil spilled comes from theft and sabotage, so it can hardly be expected to be responsible for cleaning that up. Oil spill data, kept admirably up to date, makes the point. Even more admirably, this is highlighted in the tag cloud that still adorns the Nigeria home page. 

As this is an international story, why is Shell not putting its case to a global audience on its global site? The court case will make sure people know about it anyway - why hide your defence? As I have so often, I'd point to the Ask Nestlé section as a model showing how tricky issues, big or small, can be handled in a sophisticated way.

David Bowen