The Staggering Hypocrisy Of The ESG Champions

5 min readMar 16, 2022
Pepsi Cola have said that they have suspended business in Russia. What does it mean exactly?

I didn’t go to International Women’s last Monday. I normally love going to such events: it’s an opportunity to catch-up with like-minded colleagues, a way to change mentalities in a male-dominated industry and a breath of fresh air. But this year, I just couldn’t go. I made excuses: I was swamped at work. You see, half of the team had Covid and we could barely attend the meetings we were supposed to attend. There was simply no time. Truth be told, it wasn’t the only reason not to go.

So what happened? Well, the Russian invasion in Ukraine has completely changed my view of the self-proclaimed Diversity and ESG champions. To cut a long story short, I can’t stand their hypocrisy any longer and I don’t want to be used as a token for their diversity posturing any more.

Let me explain: the company Shell bought a cargo of Russian oil after the invasion. They bought it with a massive discount -they paid $28.50 a barrel below the price. They said that they needed it in order not to disrupt supplies. Frankly, I doubt that not buying one cargo would have drastically changed anything. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine said it best ‘Doesn’t Russian oil smell of Ukrainian blood for you?’ Shell subsequently made several statements saying that they were appalled by the war in Ukraine. Guess what happened to them? Nothing of course. A few days later, bowing to public pressure, Shell announced its intent to withdraw from all Russian oil & gas. Nobody will be held accountable for their blatant disregard of Ukrainian lives. Their carefully crafted statements were all that mattered. The fact that their actions might have helped a brutal invasion counts for nothing. I had a look at the IWD Sponsors : Shell was one of them. And it didn’t seem to bother anyone. But how could a company pretend to care about women when it so blatantly benefitted from a violent conflict? Didn’t they see the pictures of women killed while giving birth in a maternity? Words fail me.

Mind you, the signs have been right in front of us for a long time. We simply chose to ignore them. Maybe I am an old-school sort of person. To me, protecting human lives trumps everything else.Protecting lives should always be a company’s top priority, even if it means that tough decisions have to be made. In the same vein, dangerous behaviours have to be called out. If that’s what it takes to save lives, you need to do it without hesitation.

Over the last few years, the value of human life has become a distant priority, and in parallel we have witnessed the rise of virtue-signalling and empty promises. In short, it’s completely alright to endanger people or even kill them as long as you have the right PR machine behind you and of course show adequate contrition. So why would you try not to endanger people’s life in the first place? There is no point, because nobody cares. Obviously, if you champion soft causes and give unrealistic targets for carbon emissions, your safety record doesn’t matter: you are inspirational and the next management team will have to deliver them anyway.

It’s all about talking the talk and making sure that you are seen to comply with the cause of the day. If you do so, then you will literally get away with murder, as did Shell. Provided that you speak well, have friends in the press, don’t swear or ruffle feathers then nothing will happen to you, even if your failings have endangered your staff, a region or even a whole country. But if you’ve shaken things up to try to improve a company’s safety, if you have high standards and want to instil a culture of accountability and performance, then you might be accused of being a bully. You will also be at the receiving end of vile abuse campaigns. It’s all about talking the talk, stupid.

The Samarco Disaster

Don’t take my word for it. There are numerous examples of this. Look no further than the Samarco tragedy: where are the ESG champions? They seem to be missing in action. In 2015, 19 people died, a whole region was wiped out. The scars of the destruction are still visible today, and the victims have yet to be adequately compensated. After 6 years. So what happened? Well, Samarco filed for bankruptcy. Creditors will have to take a haircut. There were meetings happening last week on this very subject but BHP, who owns 50% of Samarco, preferred to communicate on gender diversity of course. What a convenient distraction and what a slap on the face of the victims! Am I the only one to find this disgusting?

My mistake was to believe that ESG was going to make the business world more ethical. Clearly, I was wrong. Companies like BP and Shell only decided to stop working in Russia when pushed by Governments. Lots of companies made sweeping statements about getting out of Russia without any action plan whatsoever, because it was all about riding the virtue-signalling wave. Where were they in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea? Such statements don’t matter of course, because nobody will hold them accountable anyway. Many other companies will remain silent and hope to weather the storm. It’s not about doing the right thing, it’s about public perception and priorities of the day. Simply put, the way we think of ESG is wrong as words are more important than actions. In light of the Russian invasion, maybe Internation Women Day should have been cancelled.

Right now, empty promised and soft commitments about culture, diversity and decarbonisation are the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, these are important issues that need to be addressed. But not to the detriment of safety. Not to the detriment of human lives. They have now become political tools to divert our attention from real issues. I don’t want to be part of this charade. It’s time to go back to basics. Actions and results speak louder than words. Protecting human lives is more important than anything else.




I am a French woman who used to live in London and has now moved to Sydney. Engineer by background. Turned lawyer. Turned writer. Wife, mum, friend, ultrarunner