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UK companies fight shy of rights ac

Subject: UK companies fight shy of rights activists, says survey

                   Copyright 1997 Times Newspapers Limited  
                                   The Times
                            January 13, 1997, Monday

SECTION: Business
HEADLINE:  UK companies fight shy of rights activists, says survey

BYLINE: Marianne Curphey

    ONE in five companies admits to having been deterred from an overseas
investment because of lobbying by human rights activists, or over fears that the
initiative would be too controversial, according to a new survey.

    The survey shows that pressure groups are emerging as a powerful new force
capable of damaging company profits and hindering overseas development. The most
successful lobbyists are environmental organisations - among them Greenpeace,
which succeeded via a high-profile media cam paign in forcing the Shell oil
company to reconsider dumping the Brent Spar platform in the Atlantic Ocean in

    Shell was also criticised last week by the World Council of Churches, which
accused Nigeria's regime of widespread oppression in the oil-rich Ogoniland and
attacked Shell for causing environmental damage in the region. Oil and gas
companies are expected to continue to be the focus for environmental anger.

    The British and American public are among the most sensitive about human
rights and environmental issues, according to the report by Control Risks, the
international business consultancy. CR says Britons are more sensitive to ethics
than the pragmatic Europeans, and although businesses are theoretically willing
to engage in dialogue, they are mistrustful in practice.

    Richard Fenning, development director for CR, said: "Pressure groups and
governments, principally the United States, will threaten action in order to
guide corporate strategy." Only one in 14 German companies had altered an
investment decision because of human rights issues, compared with one in three
in Britain.

    In the survey of 51 global companies with turnover in excess of Pounds 1
billion, 57 per cent of international development directors expected the risks
posed by pressure groups to increase over the next five years.

    Only 10 per cent thought they would diminish, 90 per cent believed it was
possible to work with pressure groups on the environment and 77 per cent thought
collaboration possible on labour standards.

    CR cites controversy over Burma, where in 1996 Carlsberg, the Danish brewer,
and Heineken, its Dutch counterpart, both withdrew from the country rather than
face a consumer boycott campaign. However, a report last year by the British
Government's Advisory Committee on Business and the Environment said that
although directors should involve environmentalists in policymaking, this did
 not guarantee escape from high-profile media reporting.