You can be sure of Shell's efforts to be ethical

SHELL'S PROFITS may be tumbling and its chairman's job may be on the line, but at least the group's efforts to stamp out bribery and corruption among its 100,000-strong workforce and raise the ethical standards of its contractors are beginning to pay off.

The oil giant's latest Report to Society, which is due to be published next month, will show that the number of employees who were sacked for soliciting bribes fell last year.

There has also been a decline in the number of contractors axed for failing to heed Shell's general statement of business principles.

Shell caught and sacked 23 staff for soliciting or accepting bribes in 1997. Most of the offences took place in Nigeria.

Mark Wade, the head of Shell's social accountability team, said the level of dismissals last year was lower, while the number of contractors sacked was down from 95 in 1997 to about 60.

This year Shell is pumping $25m into its campaign to convince the world that it is serious about issues such as human rights, sustainable development, business honesty, care for the environment and safe working. The initiative will feature a $16m press advertising campaign, a direct mail shot to tens of thousands of opinion-formers around the world, and a series of "stakeholder forums".

After last year's 90 per cent plunge in profits and $4.5bn of write-offs, Mark Moody-Stuart, the chairman of Shell, said it would have been "very easy but also very wrong" to put profits before principles.

While much of our attention this year is going into making the business more profitable, this is not an excuse to neglect our longer-term responsibilities," he added.

Mr Wade conceded that some critics would see the campaign as "PR gloss and just another cheap fix".

However, he said Shell was determined to address the concerns of a 10 per cent minority who viewed it as lacking respect for human rights, the environment and the future.