Milieudefensie and Nigerian win landmark court case against Shell

Royal Dutch Shell has breached its duty of care by not doing enough to prevent oil spills. Shell Nigeria has to compensate 3 of the 4 Nigerian plaintiffs for the damage they suffered from the spills. This is what the Dutch higher court decided today in a groundbreaking case launched 13 years ago by Milieudefensie and 4 Nigerians. It is the first time that a court has held a Dutch transnational corporation accountable for its duty of care abroad.

The verdict in short:

  • Shell Nigeria is liable for the damage caused by oil spills in the villages of Oruma and Goi.
  • Shell has to compensate the plaintiffs Eric Dooh, Chief Fidelis Oguru and the heirs of Alali Efanga for this damage. The amount of the compensation has yet to be decided.
  • Royal Dutch Shell has breached its duty of care. It has to do more to prevent oil spills. Specifically, they have to install a leak detection system in the pipelines in Oruma.
  • The court is not convinced that Shell has not cleaned up sufficiently in Oruma and Goi.
  • The court has not decided on the spill in Ikot Ada Udo, because it still has questions on the seriousness of the pollution.
  • In an intermediate judgement the court already established that Dutch judges are allowed to judge on the behavior of Shell in Nigeria.

For decades, millions of people living in the Niger Delta have been suffering the consequences of large-scale oil pollution. Every year, 16,000 babies die as a result of the pollution, and life expectancy in the Delta is 10 years less than in the rest of Nigeria. Milieudefensie's lawsuit revolves around pollution from leaks of Shell oil in three villages, which has rendered local people’s fields and fish ponds unusable. The leaked oil was never thoroughly cleaned up and new oil spills still occur regularly.

Channa Samkalden, the lawyer for the Nigerian farmers and Milieudefensie said:

"After years of litigation there is finally justice for many of my clients, only the case in Ikot Ada Udo is still ongoing. Not only is Shell liable for the oil spill and my clients will get what they are entitled to, this case also shows that European companies must behave responsibly abroad."

Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie / Friends of the Earth Netherlands said:

"This is fantastic news for the affected farmers. It is enormous that Shell has to compensate for the damage. This is also a warning for all Dutch transnational corporations involved in injustice worldwide. Victims of environmental pollution, land grabbing or exploitation now have a better chance to win a legal battle against the companies involved. People in developing countries are no longer without rights in the face of transnational corporations."

Regulation of transnational corporations needed

The Nigeria case has lasted almost 13 years, which shows how difficult it is for victims of harm by the business activities of transnational corporations to obtain justice, says Friends of the Earth Netherlands. Friends of the Earth calls for ambitious European and international legislation to hold businesses accountable for harms overseas. Thousands of European citizens are participating in an online action that calls on the European Commission to introduce binding due diligence legislation.

Daily oil spills in Nigeria

Despite decades of promises, projects, reports and other lawsuits, the Niger Delta remains heavily polluted. Oil spills are the order of the day. Even the cleanup operation that the Nigerian government, Shell and others were to start is still not functioning after 10 years of promises and preparations. Sabotage sometimes appears to be caused by Shell employees, according to a report by Milieudefensie and Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

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