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Nigerian farmers & Friends of the Earth Netherlands win Shell oil pollution case

The Court of Appeal in The Hague has today ( 29 January 2021 ) ruled in favour of Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie and four Nigerians on most points in an oil pollution case that was first brought against Shell in 2008. 

[1] Shell Nigeria in particular is liable for oil pollution at three locations in the Niger Delta, but according to the court, the parent company Royal Dutch Shell also violated its duty of care.

Three of the four Nigerian plaintiffs and their fellow villagers must now be compensated for the damage caused and Shell must ensure that there is a leakage detection system in the pipelines in Nigeria. It is the first time that a court has held Dutch transnational corporation accountable for its duty of care abroad.

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.

Friends of the Earth Netherlands’ 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 is still leaking out regularly.

Eric Dooh from Goi, one of the four Nigerian plaintiffs said:

“Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil. It is a bittersweet victory, since two of the plaintiffs, including my father, did not live to see the end of this trial. But this verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger Delta.”

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.”

Sam Cossar, Economic Justice Campaigner for Friends of the Earth Australia said:

"Today’s legal victory against Shell is an inspiration for the growing global movement to end corporate impunity. This case is not an isolated incident, unfortunately a number of Australian companies are involved in similar human rights and environmental crimes overseas.  We need new binding rules  to hold Australian corporations accountable and ensure justice."

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 Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Friends of the Earth Nigeria. [2]

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