Shell lawsuit (re oil pollution in Nigeria)

Shell oil spill Nigeria via Royal Times NigeriaThe plaintiffs filed three separate lawsuits, each one addressing the impact of oil spillages in the three villages – Oruma, Goi and Ikot Ada Udo.  The Oruma lawsuit claims that oil spillages occurred on 26 June 2005 and that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (“Shell Nigeria”) (Shell’s Nigerian operating company) only closed the hole in the pipeline on 29 June 2005.  Allegedly, the oil flowed into plaintiffs’ farmland and fishponds, polluting it and making it unfit for use.  The plaintiffs further claim that the clean-up started in November 2005 and that neither the environment near Oruma nor their oil-polluted property has been adequately cleaned by Shell Nigeria.  With regard to the allegations of negligence, the suit argues that Shell Nigeria acted negligently by allowing the oil spill to occur, or at least it did not prevent or limit it, and did not adequately clear the oil.  Plaintiffs also allege that Shell plc (the parent company) was negligent because it did not ensure that its subsidiary carried out oil production in Nigeria in a careful manner, although it was able and obligated to do so.  The other two lawsuits make similar claims regarding oil spillages in Goi and Ikot Ada Udo. 

On 13 May 2009 Shell submitted a motion to the court arguing that the Dutch courts lacked jurisdiction over the actions of the Nigerian subsidiary. On 8 July 2009 the plaintiffs filed their Statement of Defence to the Motion Contesting Jurisdiction at the Hague district court. On 30 December 2009, the Hague district court ruled that it did have jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ case. On 24 March 2010, former Shell Transport and Trading Company and Dutch Shell Petroleum N.V. (Shell’s Dutch subsidiary) were added as defendants after Shell argued that it cannot be held responsible for actions of its predecessors. Lawyers for the plaintiffs requested the defendants to disclose relevant internal documents. On 16 June 2010, Shell denied plaintiffs’ request for disclosure of internal documents, stating it cannot be forced to and is not able to provide them. Shell appeared in court to respond to the plaintiffs' allegations in October 2012. On 30 January 2013 the Dutch court issued a decision ordering Shell to pay compensation to one of the farmers, but it dismissed the balance of the claims.  In December 2015, a Dutch appeals court reversed its dismissal and permitted the balance of the claims to go forward.  The appeals court also ruled that Shell must grant the claimants access to certain internal company documents essential to the case.

- "Dutch appeals court says Shell may be held liable for oil spills in Nigeria", Reuters, 18 Dec 2015
- "Dutch court says Shell partly responsible for Nigeria spills", Ivana Sekularac & Anthony Deutsch, Reuters, 30 Jan 2013
- "Nigerian villagers sue Shell in landmark pollution case", Ivana Sekularac & Anthony Deutsch, Reuters, 11 Oct 2012
- "Pollution: Dutch court to hear Nigerians suit against Shell", Chika Amanze-Nwachuku, ThisDay [Nigeria] 2 Oct 2012
- [video] "Fight continues for Nigeria oil spill victims", Al Jazeera English, 8 Jun 2010
- “Shell must face Friends of the Earth Nigeria claim in Netherlands”, Terry Macalister, Guardian [UK], 30 Dec 2009
- [video] "Dutch court takes on Shell oil case", Reuters, 30 Dec 2009 
- “Farmers sue Shell over oil spills in Niger Delta”, Sarah Arnott, Independent [UK], 3 Dec 2009
- [Dutch, PDF] "The people of Nigeria versus Shell: De eerste zitting van de rechtszaak", Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie, Dec 2009
- “Shell Sued in the Netherlands For Oil Spills in Nigeria”,, 11 Sep 2008 

Doing business in Nigeria: challenges and questions
Preventing spills
- Shell Nigeria: Remediation Issues in the Niger Delta

Friends of the Earth Netherlands/Milieudefensie [plaintiffs]:
- Outcome appeals against Shell: victory for the Nigerian people and the environment, 18 Dec 2015
- [PDF] Factsheet: The people of Nigeria versus Shell, Apr 2011 
The People of Nigeria versus Shell 
Documents on Shell legal case
Nigerians file oil lawsuit against Shell in the Netherlands, 5 Nov 2008

Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria:
Press Release-Shell faces legal action over Nigerian Pollution, 15 May 2008

- [PDF] Friday Alfred Akpan v Shell, District Court of the Hague, 30 Jan 2013
- [PDF] Fidelis Ayoro Oguru v Shell plc, District Court of the Hague, 14 Sep 2011 [Judgment in ancillary actions]
- [PDF, English translation] Oguru and Ofanga v Shell plc, Summons

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13 April 2017

Overcoming unequal access to information - frequent barrier to remedy for victims of corporate abuse

Author: Elodie Aba, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

[I]nequality in access to information reinforces the existing imbalance of power between victims and companies, denying to victims information required to file a case or prove their claims. ..[G]ranting access to evidence can rectify the imbalance...[C]ourts should ease access to information wherever a company holds it, following the examples of courts and laws in the US, Canada, and Netherlands. Information sharing and international collaboration between courts is beneficial for all stakeholders because it facilitates resolution of disputes...[In addition,] [s]tronger legislation similar to the US [Foreign Legal Assistance] Statute...would go a long way...

[refers to Chevron, Hudbay Minerals, Shell]

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18 December 2015

Godwin Ojo: "Why is Shell continuing their environmental racism?"

Author: Myrthe Verweij, Down to Earth (Netherlands)

[Godwin Ojo, director of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria]...was in The Netherlands to talk about the (lack of) developments concerning the 2011 UNEP report of the United Nations, with recommendations about cleaning up the oil pollution in Nigeria...

[Ojo:] “Environmental Rights Action has put continuous pressure on getting the UNEP recommendations for cleaning up the oil pollution carried out. This year the government finally responded. Shell is in conversation with the Ogoni people. But at the same time Shell has hijacked the UNEP-process. The polluter, who has to pay for the restoration, is directing the process... [Ed. note: Shell's FAQ regarding its positions on the UNEP report & follow-on process is here. Shell's response to accusations it has "hijacked" the UNEP process is here.]

Your organisation has started several court cases in Nigeria. What are the results?

[Ojo:] ...we used the judicial system to increase environmental awareness in Nigeria, to bring problems into the public domain. A highlight was the High Court ruling against Shell in 2005, confirming that gas flaring is a fundamental human rights violation...But because of weak state institutions and the political and economic power of Shell, the ruling has been ignored... 

...[C]ompanies are happy when court cases have become an acceptable road for the victims of oil spills. They know they can delay court cases endlessly. That is expensive and they can affort it. Poor people can’t.  An environmental court case in Nigeria can take an entire lifetime... 

What about the oil spills – according to oil companies these are often caused by sabotage or theft?

“The investigation of the cause of the spills is hijacked by the oil companies. Amnesty International has extensively documented the irregularities (pdf) with these kinds of investigations. The oil companies...manipulate the research. We have heard stories where a team...[from the oil company] offers five thousand naira (25 euro – MV) to whomever wants to sign a form. And those forms then say that a spill is caused by sabotage and not a technical failure.”

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18 December 2015

Dutch appeals court says Shell may be held liable for oil spills in Nigeria

Author: Reuters

A Dutch appeals court ruled on Friday that Royal Dutch Shell can be held liable for oil spills at its subsidiary in Nigeria, potentially opening the way for other compensation claims against the multinational. Judges in The Hague ordered Shell to make available to the court documents that might shed light on the cause of the oil spills and whether leading managers were aware of them. Friday’s ruling overturned a 2013 finding by a lower Dutch court that Shell’s Dutch-based parent company could not be held liable for spills at its Nigerian subsidiary...Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), said in a statement: “We are disappointed the Dutch court has determined it should assume international jurisdiction over SPDC.”

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Author: RFI

La justice néerlandaise s'est déclarée compétente...pour examiner la plainte de pêcheurs et fermiers nigérians accusant le groupe pétrolier Shell de pollution dans le delta du Niger...[L]es plaignants avaient saisi la justice néerlandaise en 2008, imputant à Shell des fuites d'oléoducs qui ont détruit leurs terres et leurs étangs en 2005. Ces hommes demandent que la multinationale nettoie les dégâts dans leurs trois villages et s'engage à surveiller son matériel défectueux. La filiale anglo-néerlandaise souhaitait de son côté que la justice se dise incompétente pour juger de faits s'étant produits dans un autre pays...« Ce jugement est une victoire majeure, cela veut dire que les tribunaux néerlandais peuvent se prononcer sur des sociétés néerlandaises à l'étranger », s'est réjoui le porte-parole des Amis de la Terre. Selon l'ONG, des milliers d'autres fermiers et pêcheurs sont concernés dans le delta du Niger, cette décision ouvre donc la porte à de nouvelles plaintes...La compagnie ne peut pas se pourvoir en cassation.

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18 December 2015

Outcome appeal against Shell: victory for the environment and the Nigerian people

Author: Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands)

Four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth Netherlands welcome today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals in The Hague allowing them to jointly sue Shell in the Netherlands for causing extensive oil spills in Nigeria. The ruling is unique and can pave the way for victims of environmental pollution and human rights abuses worldwide to turn to the Netherlands for legal redress when a Dutch company is involved. In addition to competence question, the Court also ruled in favour of Friends of the Earth NL and the Nigerian farmers regarding the issue of access to internal company documents, Shell must give access to internal company documents.

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Author: Olivier Petitjean, Observatoire des multinationales (France)

La Cour d’appel de La Haye vient de donner raison sur tous les points aux quatre plaignants nigérians qui, avec les Amis de la terre, avaient initié des poursuites judiciaires contre Shell aux Pays-Bas en 2008 suite à la contamination de leurs terres par le pétrole et la destruction de leurs moyens de subsistance...Non seulement la Cour d’appel a reconnu que les quatre Nigérians et les Amis de la terre pouvaient poursuivre Shell aux Pays-Bas, mais elle leur a également reconnu le droit d’accéder aux documents internes de l’entreprise relatifs à ses activités au Nigeria. L’avocate des Amis de la terre, Channa Samkalden, souligne l’importance de cet aspect de la décision : « C’est la première fois dans l’histoire du droit que les tribunaux reconnaissent un droit d’accès aux documents internes d’une entreprise. Une décision légitime, car ces documents pourraient contenir des preuves importantes sur les déversements de pétrole causés par Shell et qui affectent les terres et les mares de ces paysans...»...

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17 November 2014

Shell Lied to Dutch Court About Oil Spills in Nigeria, Say Friends of the Earth

Author: Amelia Smith, Newsweek

The oil company Shell lied to a Dutch court about steps taken to minimize the risk of oil spills during a court case brought against the…company by four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, lawyers acting for the claimants alleged today…During the case,…Shell’s lawyer said that the oil company had taken precautionary steps to avoid oil spills…, including the installation of a leak detection system… However, according to lawyers representing the farmers, documents revealed in the UK’s High Court this year have shown that there was in fact no leak detection system in place and [Shell] had consistently ignored calls from its own staff to replace the pipeline…A spokesman for the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC) said: “We strongly refute any suggestion that SPDC has knowingly submitted false or misleading information to the Dutch court…”

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28 February 2014

[PDF] Injustice Incorporated: Corporate Abuses and the Human Right to Remedy

Author: Amnesty International

This book seeks to ground the debate on the human right to remedy in cases of corporate-related abuse in the lived experiences of victims…[It]… focuses on four emblematic cases and exposes how corporate political and financial power intertwined with specific legal obstacles to allow companies to evade accountability and deny, or severely curtail, remedy…The cases are…[the] 1984 Bhopal gas leak in India…[the] case of Omai gold in Guyana...[the] Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea…[and the] dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire…[Trafigura responded that] it is simply wrong to suggest that the issues have not had the right judicial scrutiny...[Union Carbide responded that] [a]ll of the victims’ claims…were resolved a quarter-century ago by a comprehensive settlement…[Includes full responses from Arcelor Mittal, Dow Chemical, Tata Group, Trafigura Beheer, Union Carbide (part of Dow)] [Also refers to BHP Billiton, BP, Shell, Vedanta Resources]

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1 January 2014

[PDF] Between activism and science: grassroots concepts for sustainability coined by Environmental Justice Organizations

Author: Joan Martinez-Alier (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) & others, Journal of Political Ecology

[Résumé aussi en Français / Resumen también en español] EJOs (environmental justice organizations) and their networks have introduced several concepts to political ecology that have also been taken up by academics and policy makers. In this paper, we explain the contexts in which such notions have arisen, providing definitions of a wide array of concepts and slogans related to environmental inequities and sustainability, and explore the connections and relations between them. These concepts include: environmental justice, ecological debt, popular epidemiology, environmental racism, climate justice, environmentalism of the poor, water justice, biopiracy, food sovereignty, "green deserts", "peasant agriculture cools downs the Earth", land grabbing, Ogonization and Yasunization, resource caps, corporate accountability, ecocide, and indigenous territorial rights...[refers to Chevron, Texaco, Keystone (part of Thor Industries), BP, Dole, Umicore, Bechtel, Edison, Abengoa, Vale, Eskom]

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7 November 2013

Shell made false claims about Niger delta oil pollution, says Amnesty

Author: John Vidal, Guardian (UK)

Amnesty International accuses Shell of false claims about its environmental impact in the Niger delta, saying that the oil company cannot be trusted and that there are "serious discrepancies" between the evidence of pollution and what Shell claims…According to official figures, there are several hundred oil spills a year in the delta, many of which involve Shell pipelines…"It is the communities that suffer…with their land and livelihoods destroyed by the pollution…” [says Amnesty Intl.]…The report argues that the investigations oil companies must conduct into spills are seriously flawed…The report…was shown to Shell before publication and includes the company's denials, refutations and explanations…A Shell spokesman in London said: "The Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) firmly rejects unsubstantiated assertions that they have exaggerated the impact of crude oil theft and sabotage to distract attention from operational performance…”…

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