by Alex Lawson and Damien Gayle / The Guardian
Three people have been arrested after Shell was forced to pause its annual general meeting in London after it was interrupted by environmental protesters chanting: “We will stop you.”
About 40 climate protesters attending the event as shareholders told the oil and gas company’s board: “We will expose you. We know who you are. We know what you have done. We will remember.”
Having bought shares in Shell to gain access to the meeting, they repeatedly chanted “Shell must fall” and “shame on you” at the assembled executives at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, accusing the board of spending “more money on green advertising than green technology”.
The Shell chairman, Sir Andrew Mackenzie, became increasingly exasperated as he asked for quiet and was forced to formally pause the meeting after 40 minutes after continuous interruptions. The meeting eventually resumed nearly three hours late.
One shareholder who was not part of the demonstration shouted at the protesters: “Out! out! out!” and another made rude gestures towards them.
Police arrived at the meeting and watched as the protest, which lasted more than an hour, continued.
One campaigner said: “Where is your decency? Why are you sitting there smirking? You cannot dismiss us.” Another attender responded angrily: “You have infiltrated this meeting. Let the chairman answer.” The protester replied: “They give us answers and it’s always greenwash.”
Mackenzie asked shareholders who were not protesting to leave the main auditorium to another room for lunch while the room was cleared of activists who had glued themselves to their seats. One shareholder shouted “fuck off” at them as he left the room.
Another group of protesters unveiled a banner saying “Shell profits from hell on Earth”. Police then asked Shell staff and the board to leave, and after 90 minutes had successfully cleared the room.
One woman who was led out of the building by police was later seen handcuffed on the ground and crying. The Metropolitan police said she had sustained a slight knee injury in a fall and was taken to hospital as a precaution.
Three people were arrested outside the hall – two for attempted criminal damage and one for criminal damage – the force said.
Just over 20% of shareholder votes were cast in favour of an independent resolution by Dutch activist group Follow This urging Shell to adopt more stringent climate goals, down from 30% of votes on the same resolution in 2021. Votes in favour of Shell’s own climate plan nearly doubled to 20%.
Protests were held outside Central Hall throughout the morning, with climate activists chanting slogans, making speeches and berating Shell shareholders who were arriving for the AGM.
Protesters lined the route shareholders took to the front door. “Vote for life today,” one shouted.
Addressing the crowd, Lauren MacDonald, an activist with Stop Cambo, which last year campaigned successfully for Shell to pull out of a new oilfield development in the North Sea, challenged investors walking past, prompting shouts of “shame on you” from the crowd. Some investors tried shouting back, but were drowned out.
Protesters also heard from Caroline Lucas, the UK parliament’s only Green MP, who said she had called on the government in the Commons to prevent companies like Shell setting up in the UK.
She told the Guardian: “For me, being here as a politician, I try using every tool I have access to in parliament in order to get our government to listen to the science. But they are not listening, they are planning more oil and gas licences – even more extraordinarily, they are planning more coal too – and that’s why this action outside the AGM is so critical. We have to use every mechanism that we have available to us.”
Mark Pengelly, the superintendent minister of the Chelmsford Methodist circuit, criticised the church, which he said had last year voted to divest from oil and gas, for allowing Shell’s AGM to go ahead in its headquarters.
“I feel embarrassed and I feel sad, really, that my church is here as the backdrop to this AGM today, and it seems to totally contradict what the Methodist church is trying to say about the climate emergency,” he said.
A Shell spokesperson said: “We respect the right of everyone to express their point of view and welcome any engagement on our strategy and the energy transition which is constructive. However, this kind of disruption at our AGM is the opposite of constructive engagement.
“We agree that society needs to take urgent action on climate change. Shell has a clear target to become a net zero emissions business by 2050.”
The pay package of £13.5m for Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden was approved, with 96% of votes cast in favour of the company’s pay policy. Investors had been urged to vote against.