In 2021, the United Kingdom Supreme Court allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Shell in the English courts after years of oil spills had contaminated their land and ground water. Presently, more than 11,000 Nigerians from the oil-producing Niger Delta region have filed a compensation claim against Shell at the London High Court. This latest step will test whether multinational companies can be held accountable for the actions of their oversea subsidiaries.
On February 2, 2023, a UK law firm, Leigh Day, said that it had filed claims on behalf of 11,317 people and 17 churches and schools from Ogale Community in the Niger Delta region for compensation for loss of livelihoods and damages against Shell. The law firm said that this is in addition the petition brought forward by members of Bille Community in 2015. According to the law firm, that brings the total number of villagers seeking compensation from Shell to 13,652. The claims say oil spills resulting from Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta have destroyed farms, contaminated drinking water and harmed aquatic life.
Shell said oil spills caused by illegal third-party interference.
Leigh Day announced in a statement, “The next stage in the case is for a case management hearing to be set in Spring 2023, ahead of the full trial which is likely to occur the following year.” A Shell spokesperson told the press that the majority of oil spills related to the Ogale and Bille claims were caused by illegal third-party interference, which includes pipeline sabotage. However, Shell said that it will continue to clean the affected areas.
The spokesperson said that Shell as a company believes litigation does little in addressing the real problems in the Niger Delta, which include: oil spills due to crude oil theft, illegal refining and sabotage. The Shell representative said that the company is constantly faced with these problems that cause the most environmental damage. Oil spills are not uncommon in the Niger Delta due to vandalism and corrosion. The region is a vast maze of creeks and mangrove swamps crisscrossed by pipelines and blighted by poverty, pollution, oil-fueled corruption and violence.
Amnesty International Nigeria says Shell must clean up oil spills.
Reacting to the news, Amnesty International’s Head of Business and Human Rights, Mark Dummett, said that the organization stands by these two communities in the Niger Delta. The communities have been engaged in litigation against Shell for seven years. Their claim is simply that the company should clean up the damages that the company has caused and compensate them for their lost livelihoods. The people of the communities said that the company’s activities have wrecked their livelihoods, poisoned their wells, and polluted their land and water, which means they can no longer farm or fish.
Shell announced in 2021 that it plans to sell its onshore oil fields and assets in the Niger Delta region after 60 years of profitable operation in the area. Amnesty International expressed its concerns that Shell has not explained how it plans to address the widespread and systemic pollution of Nigerian communities, which were linked to its operations over many years before it sold its assets and exits. The case is now proceeding to trial to determine whether Shell’s parent company in London and its Nigerian subsidiary (Shell Petroleum Development Company) are legally responsible for the harm caused to the communities in the region.
Director of Amnesty says this would attract severe consequences elsewhere.
Osai Ojigho, the Director of Amnesty International Nigeria, said that if this level of contamination and pollution had happened in Europe or North America, it is hard to even imagine that there would not have been swift and severe consequences and legal redress against Shell’s parent company and its subsidiaries. “Shell should clean up the pollution the oil has caused in these communities and compensate those whose livelihoods have been devastated and whose health has been harmed,” she said.