Shell Case Study

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By: Braithwaite, Shelley. Ethics, Place & Environment; Oct99, Vol. 2 Issue 2, p246

The murder of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his colleagues in November 1995 is the event most often recognised as the catalyst for Shell's acceleration of its Nigerian public relations strategy. Yet almost 3 years previously, in February 1993, during meetings in London and the Hague, Shell executives privately acknowledged that the articulate voice of Ken Saro-Wiwa could well cause problems for the company. Shell has become extremely proficient at side-stepping concerns over its operations. At the same time the company has attempted to win over the public by establishing its own criteria for sound practices (while rejecting independent monitoring) and engaging ‘stakeholders’ on its own terms. The growing international concern over Shell's environmental record of destruction left the company with no choice but to become involved in the debate. The power relations behind that debate, and who frames the terms of the debate, are of crucial importance.

As Richard Welford (1997) suggests, industrial companies like Shell respond to the pressures of radical criticism by attempting to ensure that they determine the shape and direction of any new agenda. In Hijacking Environmentalism he states that ‘the dominant ideology of corporate environmentalism is ecomodernism and within that the tool of eco-efficiency’ (Welford, 1997, p. 16). Businesses promote the ecomodernism agenda because it requires little real change. To this end Shell has embraced the theory of ‘ecomodernism’ as a means of strengthening its current and future role without having to reconsider fundamental issues of environmental justice.

In an attempt to mollify critics, industry has adopted the language of environmentalism, resulting in the flourishing of greenwash. As a case in point, Shell has utilised all possible avenues to enhance its public image, with each successive publication becoming more and more sophisticated...
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