Why I Can't Be Philosophical about Shell's Involvement
The Guardian, April 29, 1998

On a forthcoming visit to England I had agreed to speak at the Centre for Philosophical Studies at King's College, London. Some weeks later I was disturbed to be told that my lecture was being advertised as supported by Shell UK Ltd. No mention of this funding had been made to me before I accepted the invitation.

In view of Shell's appalling record of environmental damage, its lack of respect for the rights of the Ogoni people of the Niger delta, from whose land it takes much of its oil, and its involvement with the Nigerian military regime, responsible for the deaths of Ogoni protesters, including the playwright Ken Saro Wiwa, I was not willing to receive support from any Shell company.

I have therefore withdrawn my acceptance of the original invitation.

I have been told that cuts to government funding have made it difficult for British universities to function without seeking money from business.

If this is true, it is surely something to deplore. No matter how much a university may protest that money comes with no strings attached, when a centre for philosophy becomes dependent on funding from a corporation like Shell, there is a real danger that the nature of the funding could have an influence, consciously or not, on the activities of philosophers in the centre.

Even if this does not occur, the distinction between a truly independent academic and a hired researcher has been blurred, and the prestige of the university in general and its philosophers in particular has been captured by a corporation of dubious ethical standing.

Peter Singer.

Centre for Human Bioethics,

Monash University,

Clayton,

Victoria.


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