Shell payment disclosures welcomed, but with caveats

Royal Dutch Shell touts commitment to transparency under the terms of British law, though similar rules may be under threat.
By Daniel J. Graeber  |  June 13, 2017 at 8:50 AM
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June 13 (UPI) -- Required transparency disclosures from Royal Dutch Shell are welcomed, but the disclosures are not widespread, advocates said Tuesday.

Shell released details on payments made to more than two dozen governments in countries where it does business. The disclosure obliges with requirements made by the British government in 2014.

"Shell believes that transparency is an essential tool in building trust in tax systems," Chief Financial Officer Jessica Uhl said in a statement. "Society expects clarity on the revenues that extractive industries pay to governments and at the same time expects governments to be open about the revenues they receive and how they use these funds."

Nigeria last year received the largest of Shell's payments, around $3.6 billion, though disclosures are skewed somewhat by the company's recent merger with British energy company BG Group. Shell's operations in Nigeria are under scrutiny from environmentalists concerned by a legacy of oil spills in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

In response to Shell's statement, Christina Berger, a spokesperson for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, told UPI disclosures like these were welcome, but not necessarily comprehensive for the industry as a whole.

"We have further to go working together with both governments and companies in ensuring that the citizens of resource-rich countries can truly hold their governments to account," she said.

British disclosure rules are mirrored in the policies for members of the European Union, Norway and Canada. Before the 2014 measures were put in place, groups like Berger's said Shell only disclosed what it wanted to and now similar policies enshrined in U.S. law have been dismantled.

Johnny West, the director of the Berlin-based consultancy OpenOil, told UPI the bigger question is whether or not what has been paid is what should have been paid and if countries are getting a fair return for their natural resources.

"And the answer to that is a resounding no," he said. "These numbers can't be assessed, or modeled, without access to other data such as contracts and cost structures."

Meanwhile, Joe Williams, a senior advocacy officer for the Natural Resource Governance Institute in London, told UPI that, from his point of view, Shell was only disclosing what it had to under the terms of British law.

"It is quite a milestone to see Shell reporting in this way given how they have opposed such reporting for so long," he said.

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