Nigerian Farmers Cleared to Sue Shell in Dutch Court

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Dutch court to rule on landmark Nigerian case against Shell.

A Dutch appeals court ruled Friday that four Nigerian farmers may take their case against oil giant Shell to a judge in the Netherlands, in a landmark ruling involving multinational corporate governance. “The Dutch courts and this court consider it has jurisdiction in the case against Shell and its subsidiary in Nigeria,” Judge Hans van der Klooster said at the appeals court in The Hague. The four farmers and fishermen, backed by the Dutch branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth, first filed the case in 2008 against the Anglo-Dutch company in a court case thousands of kilometres (miles) from their homes. The case is the latest attempt by Niger Delta communities to hold Shell to account, with the support of international NGOs including Amnesty International.

The farmers also want Shell to disclose a number of documents they believe could show the company’s negligence in maintaining its oil pipelines and guarding against sabotage. In return, court documents reveal, Shell wanted the judges to scrap Dutch jurisdiction over cases in Nigeria and rule the farmers’ appeal inadmissible. Friday’s decision means the case that centered on pollution in the land and in the water around Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta can proceed, likely next year. It is vital that multinationals are made to answer for action abroad that would never be accepted in their home countries,” said Amnesty International researcher Mark Dummett. “There have been thousands of spills from Shell’s pipelines since the company started pumping oil in the Niger Delta in 1958, with devastating consequences for the people living there.

In January 2013 a lower Dutch court threw out most of the farmers’ lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs could not hold Shell’s parent company responsible for the pollution which has for years blighted the southeastern delta system in Africa’s largest oil producer. However, in one case, the judges ordered a subsidiary, Shell Nigeria, to compensate a farmer for breach of duty of care by making it too easy for saboteurs to open an oil well head that leaked on to his land. In another victory for the plaintiffs, the Hague court also ordered Shell to give the farmers and environmental activists supporting their case access to internal documents that the court said could shed more light on the case. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that $1 billion is needed for the first five years of oil clean-up for Ogoniland, just one Nigerian region where Shell operates. Environmental groups have long accused multinationals of double standards in developing countries as opposed to regions such as Europe and North America.

Shell, which discovered and started tapping the country’s oil reserves in the late 1950s, has been heavily criticized by activists and local communities over oil spills and close ties to government security forces. They want the Netherlands and other Western nations to pass laws ordering companies to enforce the same environmental responsibility standards where they operate as are used at home.

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