While customers milled about The Brunswick Shopping Centre enjoying the unusually warm weather, Anne Schulthess stood in a white, handmade, shell-shaped dress in front of Waitrose as she was doused with an oil-like concoction. Inspired by a recent Ecologist article and organised by the action group Climate Rush, the event was in protest of the supermarket’s new partnership with oil giant Shell.
‘I think people who are actually concerned about the environment and human rights shop at Waitrose for a reason, and then we find out they’re working with one of the most unethical companies on the planet,’ Schulthess says. ‘I think it’s just a travesty and it has to be brought to the light.’
A report by Friends of the Earth named Shell as the world’s most carbon intensive company in part because it’s controversial oil operations in the Niger Delta and for being one of the biggest investors in Canadian tar sands - currently the subject of an attempt by the EU to label as more polluting than any other form of oil extraction.
Last September, Waitrose launched two trial convenience branches in Shell forecourts as the first step in a joint venture with the oil company. At the time Mark Price, Waitrose managing director, said: 'Bringing Waitrose to more people in more places is a big priority for us and so I’m very pleased to be embarking on this new pilot with Shell. I think the combination of their offer and Little Waitrose will hold a lot of appeal for customers.'
But members of Climate Rush, who confess to being self-proclaimed Waitrose shoppers, see no appeal at all. ‘I think people shop at Waitrose because they see it as an ethical choice,’ says member Alice Haworth-Booth. It’s kind of the environmentalist choice to shop at Waitrose, and this partnership with Shell really makes a mockery of that.’
Member Alison Dibbs spoke with several customers at the protest who were completely unaware of Waitrose’s relationship with Shell. ‘Part of what we want to achieve is to make Waitrose customers aware of this so that they can voice their displeasure with it,’ she says.
In response to queries about the partnership, a Waitrose spokesperson has said, ‘Waitrose takes our ethical commitments very seriously. While we don't think it's appropriate that we comment at length on Shell's business, we know they share concerns over the people of the Niger Delta, and they have informed us they are engaged on this subject with a variety of stakeholders.'
This is not the first time Climate Rush has made an effort to bring awareness to the partnership and it won’t be the last. Most recently the group passed out more than 150 Valentine’s Day cookies at the Tottenham Court Road Waitrose asking customers to ‘Dump Shell.’ They also launched a #dumpShell Twitter campaign, urging followers to join in protest. On March 6th at 6:30pm they plan to occupy the oil aisle at the same Russell Square Waitrose store they targeted today.
‘We’re not really prepared to stop actions around Waitrose and Shell until the partnership ends, or we can have a proper conversation with the ethics people at Waitrose and ask them why they have made this decision,' says Haworth-Booth.
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