We entered a PR event for the oil company Shell with fake identities. Instead of presenting a wonderful machine that turns cars into air-cleaning devices, we created yet another oil spill on stage.
Shell invited young scientists to the event to present their creative ideas in whatever way they thought would be most entertaining. Ideas that change the world for the better. And so we did.
Our move had a threefold motivation. First, we simply wanted to remind Shell of their homework: they need to clean up the Niger Delta and re-compensate the destruction of billions of livelihoods, stop corruption and drop their plans to drill the Arctic.
Secondly, we took action against greenwashing practices. This event was filed under “CRS”—so called corporate social responsibility. By reminding the company of their social duties (in Nigeria, the Arctic and in terms of unethical business practices, among others), we wanted to remind them what corporate responsibility means: first of all, clean up the mess you created, then make sure it doesn’t happen again. Then, look out for extra social activities.
Third, we took a stand for the necessity of more civil disobedience and subversion as NGO strategies. Looking at the limited influence of NGOs’ traditional behavior, those organizations lose more and more legitimacy as civil society’s representing voices. To stand up for people’s needs and interests in times of unequal power structures, a little more sabotage of unethical practices is needed. We propose to do it with fun, gently and smoothly kicking bottoms.
The reactions to this action were beyond our expectation. Three newspapers in Nigeria, the Huffington Post and all major news channels in Germany reported. Activists from the Turkish Gezi-Park movement translated the subtitles of the video and we were flooded by emails from all over the world. Shell understood that the protests against their company’s behavior were getting out of control and tried to find out through several agents if someone else paid us for this work.
The truth is: we paid the costs of 400 Euro ourselves, while Shell paid about 180,000 Euro for the whole greenwashing event that turned out to become a PR disaster. Beyond the political stance, our collective did it for fun and as a training for further actions of civil disobedience and subversion to come, under many different names.