Right now, Shell Oil is proving just how powerful modern business is, but in a very negative way. The revenue from its oil production is the lifeblood of the Nigerian dictatorship that murdered the writer, environmentalist and peaceful campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni colleagues.
Business must be measured by how it treats weaker and frailer communities with which it trades, rather than by how great its profits are. Business has to be about working with such communities in mutual respect, not riding roughshod over them.
People think that multinationals are all-powerful and cannot be touched. This is simply not the case. Consumers understand that their purchases are moral choices. The future of any company that ignores the attitudes of consumers in this way stands in great peril. Shell is not outside the issue. It is the issue.
Shell knew the military dictatorship it was dealing with in Nigeria. Has it put the interests of profit before the interests of the communities whose lands provided its product?
For too long, business has taught that politics and commerce are two different arenas. They are not. Political awareness and activism must be incorporated into business. That is why we at The Body Shop have supported the Ogoni people's campaign for more than two years. That is why we helped Ken's son, Ken Wiwa, to go to the Commonwealth conference to plead for his father's life, and then to the European Parliament to insist that he must not have died in vain. That is why we helped Ken Saro-Wiwa's brother, Owens, to flee Nigeria. And that is why my husband, Gordon, is in South Africa along with Lazarus Tamana, president of the Ogoni Community Association UK, to meet Nelson Mandela tomorrow.
Socially responsible businesses, environmentalists, human-rights activists, writers, journalists and politicians are working together with a clear message: do something, and do it now! Failure will not be tolerated, a fact that Shell should heed, for it may well be one of the major losers if it does not act.
I call on every one of Shell's employees to search your conscience and do what you can to change your company from within. You may feel threatened by our campaign. You may feel cowed by the outrage of the world. But you must ask yourself now this question: "Can I integrate my behaviour at work with my values as a citizen in the larger world?" The world has given you the answer. Now act on it.
The writer is founder and chief executive of The Body Shop.Reuse content