More Brunei protests planned as shell investments questioned

Brunei boycott Shell

A national day of action is planned around Australia. On June 1 Australians will protest the Sultan of Brunei’s death penalty for homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy and apostasy. Some also call for a boycott of Shell over their investments in Brunei.

In Europe, Royal Dutch Shell faces calls to exert influence over the Sultan of Brunei.

The autocratic ruler earlier this year introduced the death penalty, whipping and amputation as punishments for ‘hudud’ (death penalty) crimes in the small South East Asian country.

Shell boycott

Brunei Shell Petroleum generates about 90% of Brunei’s oil and gas revenues. The company is a 50-50 joint venture between the Anglo-Dutch company and the Brunei government.

Eumedion, a Dutch corporate governance group which counts large Shell shareholders among its members, spoke to  the Financial Times about the company.

Shell, it said, “should live up to their policies on inclusion and LGBTIQ-equality wherever they have operations.”

Shell enjoys renown around the world as a leading employer of LGBTIQ people. It receives plaudits for its workplace policies.

Shell says on their website, “At Shell, we support and enable remarkable people from every background, and strive to be a pioneer of LGBTIQ inclusion in the workplace.

However, none of those fine words will protect the estimated 3,500 employees of the company’s joint venture operations in Brunei.

In Australia, Kaleidoscope, the Shell LGBTI+ Network, aims “to raise awareness of the challenges that LGBTI+ staff face, working with people at all levels of the organisation to ensure an inclusive workplace.”

Hopefully, Kaleidoscope members rise to the challenge of raising awareness of the unique and potentially fatal challenges faced by staff of the associated Brunei Shell Petroleum.

Worldwide Response

Worldwide reaction to news of the new laws was immediate.

George Clooney and Elton John led calls for boycotts of the Dorchester collection of hotels. The Sultan owns all the luxury five-star hotels in that chain throughout the US and Europe.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticised the laws while the European Parliament called for asset freezes and visa bans.

STA Travel and LGBTIQ booking site mister b&b both stopped offering Brunei owned flights and accommodation.

In Britain, universities withdrew honours previously awarded to the Sultan. However, royal honours awarded by Queen Elizabeth II thus far remain unaffected. The College of Policing recently stopped providing training for Bruneian police.

Nevertheless, Britain still supplies a contingent of Gurkhas to Brunei. The Gurkhas protect the Sultan. The three judges who make up the Brunei Court of Appeal are also British.

Australian response

In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Bill Shorten both condemned the Sultan of Brunei’s actions but neither party foreshadowed either asset freezes or visa bans.

The Queensland Government immediately cancelled a proposed partnership with Royal Brunei Airlines. The cancellation came just months before the beginning of flights to Brisbane. Read more here

royal on the park hotel protest boycott shell
Photo: Facebook

In March, QN Magazine broke the news of the sultan’s ownership of Brisbane’s Royal on the Park Hotel. Read more here

The hotel closed its social media after we reported on a promotion which publicised a 1980s visit by Elton John. Read more here

Protestors rallied opposite the hotel to protest the laws on Saturday 13 April.  Read more here

Brunei has attempted to downplay the new laws. The sultanate claims the laws focus “more on prevention than punishment.”

However, prosecutions occurred under laws introduced earlier. The Sultan began a staged implementation of Sharia law a few years ago.

The Bruneian Foreign Minister suggested that gay people would be unlikely to be stoned to death. He said the “extremely high evidentiary threshold,” would make convictions unlikely.

The laws require either a confession or statements from reputable witnesses. However  in Saudi Arabia last week mass executions saw 37 men beheaded on the basis of confessions. Prosecutors obtained those confessions through torture.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Brunei’s defence of the laws was ‘absurd. It said enacting them would create a ‘toxic and threatening environment’ in the country.

Amnesty’s director of global issues spoke plainly.

“To defend the threat of amputation and stoning as aiming to ‘rehabilitate and nurture’ is plainly absurd.”

He detailed Amnesty’s concerns.

“To legalise torture is sickening and callous in any circumstance. To do so as a preventative measure is also reckless.”

Australian Investments

The Sultan of Brunei previously owned a cattle farm in Australia larger than his sultanate. However, Gina Reinhart now owns the Willeroo Station. The sultan still owns the Northern Territory’s Opium Creek Station.

His Australian investments appear to be mainly controlled through a company called Jerambak Holdings. Bloomberg describes Jerambak as working in asset management and holding or owning securities of other companies.

In addition to owning the Sultan’s Australian cattle properties, Jerambak exports live cattle to Brunei. It uses subsidiary companies which also offer export services.

A subsidiary called Halaqah Sdn Bhd also contracts with meat suppliers throughout Australia to provide meat to Brunei.

Some overseas media report BHP as having investments in Brunei. However, BHP appear to no longer have interests in the country. Documents seen by QN Magazine indicate the Australian company ceased their participation in 2013. They appear to have sold their interest in the deep-water Block CA1 oil field consortium in that year.

A statement by the company lists Brunei as an Asian country where it does not have a physical presence.

Further Protests and Boycotts

Some express doubts about the effectiveness of boycotts and protests. Nevertheless, those very actions led to the end of apartheid in South Africa and to Marriage Equality in Australia.

The people of Brunei have no defence against the Sultan and his administration. He is not elected. He is all-powerful and accountable to no law. There is no freedom of expression.

To disagree with the Sultan’s laws is against those very laws.

The wealth of the Sultan is often said to insulate him from boycotts and protests. He was previously the world’s richest man. However as reported previously by QN Magazine, in the face of declining oil revenues and the squandering of the nation’s wealth by the royal family, there is doubt about just how financially secure the Sultan is.

Indeed, within Brunei, many see a royal tightening of belts. They suspect the laws are a response to concerns about the Sultan’s ability to control the country as revenues decline.

A petition by just.equal urges Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten to act against Brunei.

The petition demands the withdrawal of Australia’s High Commissioner to Brunei. It also askes for the expulsion of Brunei’s High Commissioner and a ban on Royal Brunei Airlines from Australian airspace. The petition suggests a moratorium on government use of commercial services provided by Brunei’s government. Further it says Brunei is in breach of the Commonwealth of Nations Charter. Therefore, the petitioners ask for the suspension of Brunei’s Commonwealth membership.

Boycott Brunei in Australia recently declared a national day of action and protest for June 1. Sydney readers can join the Hyde Park North rally here.

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