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Greenpeace Urges Waitrose to Dump Shell

Leon Kaye | Wednesday December 5th, 2012 | 1 Comment
Waitrose, Shell, Greenpeace, convenience stores, Leon Kaye, United Kingdom, Arctic, arctic drilling, United Arab Emirates, John Lewis Partnership, corporate governance, Greenpeace UK21

Greenpeace is needling UK retailer Waitrose for its venture with Shell

Greenpeace has recently amped up its campaign urging the British grocery retailer Waitrose to sever its ties with Shell. Claiming that its partnership with Shell undermines the company’s corporate social responsibility agenda, Greenpeace activists in the United Kingdom and beyond insist that the $8.7 billion (£5.4 billion) company (technically a trust) is a hypocrite for partnering with a company that is set to exploit the Arctic. Greenpeace claims Waitrose is pulling the wool over the British public’s eyes, and to that end its activists produced a spoof advertisement mocking the company’s holiday charitable giving campaign.

Granted, Greenpeace has found success with its cheeky critique of Shell’s designs on the Arctic’s oil reserves. So is it fair for Greenpeace to attack Waitrose, a company that has long enjoyed its “green” credentials in Britain and the other countries in which it operates, including the United Arab Emirates? Or is this another case of the NGO just making some noise–noise akin to a chihuahua that will not stop barking? In this case, we have a chihuahua, i.e. Greenpeace, that will not stop yapping–so it’s time to spray some water, or a dose of reality, in Greenpeace’s face.

Waitrose operates 288 stores and employs approximately 37,000 people. Depending on the cited source, Waitrose either has two stores at Shell stations within the UK, or as many as 13. Greenpeace claims its “sources” state that Shell is pushing for more stores, and hence mocked Waitrose for the retailer’s responses indicating that any partnership with Shell is a small portion of the company’s business. Incidentally, Waitrose conducts business in Dubai, where almost all food must be imported via ships powered by fossil fuels; the company has also opened a store in Abu Dhabi, source for almost all of the United Arab Emirate’s oil. Furthermore, we can assume that Waitrose, at times, uses Shell’s fuel to move some of its products from farm to supermarket aisle.

The upshot is that Waitrose, like most companies of its size, shockingly, is not perfect. Take a look at the firm’s corporate governance structure, however. Part of the $14 billion (£8.7 billion) John Lewis Partnership, Waitrose’s employees are part of a trust in which its employees are technically “partners” and have a say in the company’s operations–and share in the profits. While it is probably true managers in the upper ranks of the company decided to pursue business with Shell, other executives within the company are also behind the company’s solid sustainability and corporate responsibility agenda. Even if the company doubled its convenience stores at Shell locations to 26, such a business move shows this company, like most, is imperfect–not outright hypocritical.

What is clear, however, is that once again, Greenpeace has proven itself to be shrill–and risks a relationship and partnership with a leader that its activists in the past have described as ethical. Many of us have angst over Shell’s moves towards Arctic drilling, and hence that energy company should be the real target: tarring Waitrose, however, shows that when it comes to pettiness and even bullying, Greenpeace holds its own.

Image credit: Greenpeace UK

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).


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  • http://davidcoethica.wordpress.com/ David Connor

    Whilst I can appreciate your point about Greenpeace’s voracious approach to making their point I think you’ve focused your post too much on the structure of the trust rather than their espoused ethical values.

    Greenpeace are also playing a vital role, and yes there is a fine balance to be kept with the loudness and the scale, but somebody has to do the shouting. Too many have become apathetic to green issues.

    More than anything I am surprised at Waitrose partnering with Shell from a reputation perspective. It takes a long time to build such a credible image and this new relationship brings more risks than I would have agreed to, especially for such relatively small financial return. Would Waitrose have shook hands on an identical deal with BP?

    I’d also be very interested to hear the feedback from the Royal household, and HRH The Prince of Wales in particular as Waitrose have Royal seals of approval and I can’t imagine the environmental champion that HRH is, being too chuffed with the deal.