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Shell’s CEO Received Salary of Six Lifetimes in 2022

Shell sign lit up in the dark against a blue sky backdrop
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Mar 15, 2023
3 minutes read

The past year has seen plenty of controversy, especially when it comes to oil and gas giants like Shell and BP. Raking in a record $40 billion in 2022, Shell’s bosses have been entitled to eye-wateringly high bonuses and salaries. The Chief Executive at the time, Ben van Beurden, had a 53% pay rise compared to the year prior, seeing his salary rocket from £6.3 million to £9.7 million, including bonuses.

The volatility of the energy market has caused a huge spike in the price of gas and electricity, seeing massive profits on the one hand and living pay packet to pay packet on the other. Such disparity has seen fresh calls for “proper” windfall taxes on the excessive profits and bumper pay cheques the heads of these companies have received. With various public sector strikes being “unaffordable” for the government to give meaningful pay rises, it begs the question why a “proper” windfall tax on these amounts can’t be used to prevent any further industrial action.

Van Beurden’s salary consisted of a £2.6 million bonus and a £4.9 million share bonus. Having then stepped down from the role in January, Wael Sawan has since replaced him, with an appointed salary of £1.4 million, without any bonuses. These bonuses, however, are capable of seeing similar numbers to Sawan’s predecessor, with a 125% annual bonus and long-term shares worth up to 300% of his salary.

In real terms, Global Witness reported that van Beurden’s pay packet was 294 times the median wage. This is estimated to be around £33,000. Taking this into account, the amount paid was what an average person would only be able to earn in six lifetimes. The non-governmental organisation works against natural resource exploitation, as well as other abuses on a global scale. The group highlighted how ludicrous it could be that people could earn so much in the midst of a global energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine.

Shell’s windfall taxes only brought in £1.86 billion last year, which is not even 5% of their total profits. Having not paid tax in the UK since 2017, there have been more and more calls for further windfall taxes to be implemented against them. The current energy profits levy demands a 25% levy on profits for these energy companies, but this isn’t really the case when they can receive a tax break of 91p for every £1 they invest in fossil fuels.

Such tax breaks seem incongruous to the drive for net zero, especially now that renewable energy generation is also subject to windfall tax. Global Witness has called for executive bonuses to be included in any and all windfall taxes as a way of offsetting any unfairness in the current climate. Considering most of Shell’s profit came from its gas operations, whether extracting or refining, it seems counterproductive to not tax “properly” to wean ourselves off the dependence on fossil fuels.

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