Pirc calls for Shell shareholder action

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Pirc, the corporate governance consultancy, is urging its clients to vote against Shell's report and accounts at the annual general meeting next Wednesday in protest at the oil company's activities in Nigeria.

"We have serious reservations about Shell's policies in relation to the environment and human rights," said Alan MacDougall, Pirc's joint managing director. "We do not consider that its response to shareholder concerns has been adequate to date."

Pirc says that following requests from pension fund clients last autumn it held a series of meetings with Shell about its role in Nigeria. It is particularly concerned about the company's policy towards the Ogoniland region of southern Nigeria where many of its oil activities are based.

"The company has had six weeks to respond but so far we have received two letters which have effectively said nothing," Mr MacDougall continued.

The issue came to a head in November when long-time Shell critic Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged along with eight other activists by the Nigerian authorities as Commonwealth leaders assembled for a summit in Auckland, New Zealand.

Shell, which pumps about half of Nigeria's oil, this week gave commitments to clean up spills and resume community action programmes in the Ogoni area.

Shell is also planning to tighten rules governing shareholder entry to annual meetings to deter environmental and human rights activists gaining publicity.

At the moment protesters can gain access by owning just one token share. Shell wants only serious long-term investors to attend and speak at meetings. One suggestion is that individuals should be shareholders for at least a year. A minimum pounds 1,000 investment is another proposal being touted by Shell.

Several other companies have already been hit by environmental activists as the agm season enters into full swing.

Pirc, whose pension fund and investment management clients control assets worth pounds 100bn, gained publicity last year when it tabled a special resolution at the annual general meeting of British Gas calling for the way executive pay and perks are set to overhauled. Mr MacDougall said yesterday that utilities would be under fire again this year.