LONDON--Shell has become the brand most targeted by activist groups, according to a digital service that tracks NGO campaigns worldwide.
Sigwatch, which monitors more than 4,000 activist groups globally, is expanding its service via a new website that provides a greater wealth of data regarding the threats posed to businesses by NGOs, and the issues that are sparking pressure.
The company has found that Shell is the company most criticised by activists in 2012. Shell has also seen the largest rise in activist criticism compared to 2011, along with Monsanto, Apple and Bank of America. Companies that have seen NGO attacks decline markedly over the same period include BP, Holcim and BHP Billiton.
“Shell is a very good example of an elephant company,” said Sigwatch founder and MD Robert Blood. “It gets targeted because its big, and activist groups feel if they can change Shell they can change the industry.”
Most recently, Shell has been the subject of attacks regarding its arctic drilling plans. The campaign, led by Greenpeace and the Yes Men, includes a spoof website and faked stunt.
Ironically, Blood notes that Shell’s willingness to engage with its critics makes it a more attractive target.
“The real reason is that Shell has made a point of trying to explain itself and engage its critics,” he said. “When activists are developing an issue, they go first to Shell - they feel that Shell can be shamed, and embarrassed into changing. It’s a wonderful scalp.”
Activist groups monitored by Sigwatch include the biggest players - it ranks Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF as the top three - along with “micro direct action” groups such as Climate Camp, Plane Stupid and Occupy.
Sigwatch also ranks the issues that are triggering most pressure from activist groups. Globally, these are led by nuclear power safety, followed by oil and gas drilling, mining and wildllife/habitat protection. The results are largely the same across different regions with some significant local differences. In the UK, for example, human rights is the issue most discussed by activists. In North America, shale gas fracking comes out on top, followed by coal burning, oilsands and industry influence over the regulatory process.
Blood noted that while social media has helped facilitate activist campaigns, the downturn in NGO funding has seen the rising influence of smaller physical protest groups such as Occupy. He added that Sigwatch’s service is used by numerous NGOs.
Sigwatch also breaks out its data by industry sector. Among global food brands, the most criticised are KFC, Nestle, Coca-Cola and Unilever. For financial institutions, the list is led by Deutsche Bank, Barclays and HSBC.
Blood noted that while consumer-facing brands rank highest, it is B2B players that are often the least-prepared for NGO attacks. “It’s no longer what the company does, it’s what the company’s customers or suppliers do,” he said. “The law of unlimited responsibility.”