‘Embracing equity’ will remain impossible in a world where fossil fuel companies exist

Shell petrol station sign. A refinery run by the company called others to 'embrace equity' on International Women's Day this year.
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To ’embrace equity’ this International Women’s Day, what we really needed was a world without fossil fuel companies. Unfortunately, they still exist and they always have something patronising to say.

Oil and gas company Shell has come a long way since its shameless International Women’s Day stunt in 2020. After justified backlash when it rebranded a petrol station in California to ‘She’ll’, the company has stepped back its PR purplewash. The silence of its official social media accounts this International Women’s Day was refreshing. That’s one less corporate voice in the sea of companies crowding out women on a day that should be all about uplifting their voices. Shell has maybe even begun to realise that appropriating calls for social justice doesn’t actually help their public image. Well, maybe not quite.

There’s always one subsidiary or branch social that slips through the net. Shell Deer Park Chemicals, the Twitter account for Shell’s refinery operations in Texas, tweeted:

Read on...

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It was seemingly ignorant of the blatant hypocrisy of its urging to ’embrace equity’. While it celebrates the women in its own workforce, women in communities at the receiving end of Shell’s projects continue to suffer.

Embracing equity in the Niger Delta?

Shell can spew out empty platitudes to ‘embrace equity’ on social media, but can it tell that to the women farmers and fishers of the Niger Delta? There, oil spills and gas flaring are devastating livelihoods and endangering the health of women breadwinners in pastoral and agricultural communities across the region. 13,000 people from those communities are now taking Shell to court.

The Niger Delta in Nigeria is the site of perhaps one of the most infamous cases of fossil fuel human rights abuse. In 1995, the Nigerian government executed nine activists who were opposing Shell’s operations in the delta. This included writer and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. For decades, widowers of the Ogoni Nine – the men who were arbitrarily detained and executed without fair trial – have been fighting for justice. They took Shell to court, claiming that the company was complicit in the death of their husbands. However, in March 2022, a district court in the Hague dismissed the case due to insufficient evidence to prove Shell’s role.

Shell has repeatedly denied any involvement in the execution of the Ogoni 9. However, in 2009, it settled out of court with the Saro-Wiwa estate, relatives of members of the Ogoni 9, and others who faced human rights violations at the hands of the company for a sum of $15.5m.

Landgrabs and lies

As campaign group ShellsLies has pointed out, land-grabbing by fossil fuel projects disproportionately impacts women in land-based communities:

The group gave the example that in some places like Uganda, women’s land tenure rights are lacking. Likewise, an investigation by the Canary recently revealed the impact of a solar park part-owned by Shell on communities in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

Shell owns 250MW of the Rewa solar park through a subsidiary company. In consultations for the project, one of the major concerns women raised was the loss of their agricultural livelihoods. Large-scale projects like the solar park at Rewa can disproportionately impact women from rural communities. Landless and marginalised women rely on agricultural labour for their employment. In other words, projects like Rewa take the agricultural land of farm employers and jeopardise these critical jobs.

Gender pay gap and greed

Moreover, Shell Deer Park’s words ring hollow when you consider its gaping gender pay gap (GPG). Shell’s GPG –  which is the difference between men and women’s average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) – was 18% in 2020. This was greater than the UK average, which stood at 15.5%.

Worse still, campaign group Global Witness has revealed that Shell’s outgoing CEO took home £9.7m in 2022. This is nearly 300 times the UK’s median salary. Meanwhile, households across the UK are in the grip of a class war driven by a Tory government pandering to this very kind of corporate greed.

Alice Harrison from Global Witness highlighted the disparity:

Shell’s CEO earned in one year what a typical UK worker would earn in six lifetimes.

She also said:

It’s a sign of just how broken our energy system is that Shell and other fossil fuel companies have made record-breaking profits from an energy crisis that’s forcing families to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table.

Of course, marginalised communities feel the effects of this crisis most profoundly. Women are unsurprisingly disproportionately impacted by the spiralling cost of living. A study by the Fawcett Society said that the impact is the result of factors like lower take-home pay and the compound pressures of insecure work and care commitments.

Some groups are fighting back against the cost of living crisis. The Warm this Winter campaign – a coalition of over 40 of the UK’s leading charities – delivered a petition to Parliament. It called on the government to meet its four key demands:

  • Provide emergency financial support for those in poverty.
  • Upgrade home insulation.
  • Provide cheap, clean, renewable energy.
  • Stop approving new oil and gas projects.


Clearly, a just transition from fossil fuels is a crucial part of redressing these gender inequalities and embracing equity. Instead, however, the UK government continues to provide astronomical subsidies and tax rebates to fossil fuel and energy companies. Meanwhile, these companies are shafting their vulnerable customers and plunging them into energy poverty.

In 2021, Greenpeace EU called Shell out for ‘genderwashing’ and using International Women’s Day as a ‘branding exercise’:

The gaslighting on social media may have lessened, but there can be nothing equitable about a world where fossil fuel companies continue to exist.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via AntonioMartin/Wikimedia, resized to 770×403, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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