Dirty Laundry on the Web

Von David Weinberger

For example, one visitor writes: "Just so you know, you are still anAmnesty International urgent action....Did you not supply weapons toNigerian security forces that brutally crack down on the Ogoni people?Did you intervene in the execution of Ken Siro-Wiwa? Ken was anenvironmentalist protesting your pollution of the Niger delta and theOgoni people's homeland. His execution and your silence isunacceptable apathy equatable to manslaughter or evenmurder."

To this, Noble Pepple of Shell responds, albeit rather stiffly: "Thankyou for your e-mail to the Tell-Shell Forum. In it, you make a numberof points which I would like to respond to below. First, let meaddress your statement that Shell is the subject of an 'AmnestyInternational urgent action.' This is not the case. AmnestyInternational has informed us that their 'urgent actions' are issuedonly by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International basedin London and that such actions are directed at individuals, notcompanies. No such action exists in relation to Shell." Pepplecontinues in this courteous, formal way, maintaining that Shell didspeak out before and after Siro-Wiwa's trial, arguing against hisexecution.

Elsewhere, however, the professional demeanor gives way to real voice.For example, here's a post in its (sanitized) entirety: "Rather thanspend vast sums on a fake forum why not have some real f***ingaction?"

According to Mark Wade, one of the founders of Shell's SustainableDevelopment Group, which is responsible for The Shell Report and theforums, any Shell employee who wants to reply can. In this case,Shell's Clare Harris wrote: "In reply to the last message I have tosay that I think it's a great pity that you can't find adjectivesother than the ones you used to describe what are obviously verystrong feelings. I work in the large team involved with bringing ourmessage about engagement and open communication to a wide audience,and whilst I debated whether it would be worth my effort I wanted toreply to you...."

Harris, in short, criticizes the post and reluctantly responds withsome obviously hurt feelings. Her message comes across as authenticprecisely because it doesn't sound as if it were crafted by a masterof PR.

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