Double Edged Fronts

In today’s Financial Times, Hugh Williamson reports on what is said to be a new vigor in anti-corporate campaigns by NGOs such as Amnesty International.  Amnesty is engaged in a major new offensive against what it says are environmental and human rights violations by Shell in the Niger Delta.  In one sense, digital technologies such as webcams, geomapping, cheap sensors, cellphones, video blogs and real-time reporting mechanisms such as Twitter provide new tools for organizations such as Amnesty to bring powerful images and other information about abuses to a broad public on a streaming basis.  Arguably, however, these same technologies are available to companies such as Shell to demonstrate in equally real-time that they are behaving responsibly in remote regions, especially those rife with conflict where second-hand accounts of events such as pipeline leaks have heretofore served polemical purposes.  Today, Shell potentially has a better information ecosystem than ever before to attempt to show, as they claim, that Amnesty’s accusations are indeed mis-informed over-simplifications.  Real time video and environmental readings streamed directly to Shell’s website alongside regular tweets from the Delta might provide a useful rebuttal to NGO campaigns.  Who knows, perhaps 1990s-style NGO marches past HQ buildings will soon prove to be as useful in 2010 as the Maginot Line was in 1940.


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