Oil from a leaking pipeline was burnt in Goi-Bodo, located in the Niger Delta in a swamp area in Nigeria, in October 2004. The company responsible for it, Shell, said the leak was deliberately caused by saboteurs and this particular case was lodged by 4 Nigerian farmers in 2008, who allege that the widespread pollution on their farm lands was being caused by these leaks from Shell’s oil infrastructure due to zero repair and maintenance.
Shell argued that it was illegal bunkering activities that had caused these leaks, but The Hague’s Court of Appeal found that Shell had in fact failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. Shell was shocked by this reverse, while affected farmers call it a ‘bitter-sweet victory’ as the case lasted 13 years. A Dutch appeal court decided that Shell is responsible for causing environmental damages caused by the Niger Delta oil-leaks and liable to compensate affected Nigerian farmer owners. The court directed Shell to install proper equipment to prevent future damages to the oilfield infrastructure. Thus Shell Nigeria was responsible for damage caused by the leaks in Goi and Oruma villages, and the amount of compensation would be determined later.
Friends of the Earth allege Shell ‘violated duty of care’
The farmers’ legal case was backed by Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth International. FoE said the court ruling favoured the farmers substantially, and Shell Nigeria, is liable for oil spills at three different areas in the Niger Delta, while Royal Dutch Shell, the parent company, also violated its oversight duty. FoE said 3 of the 4 Nigerian plaintiffs and fellow villagers should be compensated for damages caused and Shell must install a leakage detection system in Nigerian oil pipelines. A court has held a huge Dutch transnational corporation responsible for its duty of care abroad, for the first time.
Shell ‘disappointed’ as SPDC acts after leak
In a statement, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) said it was their firm belief that the spills in Goi and Oruma were due to sabotage and they were sad that this court differed on what caused the spills and that SPDC was liable. Crude oil theft, sabotage, and illegal refining are major challenges in the Niger Delta, said their statement. SPDC added that in 2019, 95% of spill incidents from its delta operations were due to criminal acts, and regardless of cause, they clean up and remediate, as done with all oil-spills. SPDC worked with many stakeholders to find solutions to such complex issues and all Shell-operated ventures globally are committed to operational safety and local environment protection. The campaign group confirmed oil leaks in 3 villages, rendering fields and ponds with fish unusable, while spilled oil was never thoroughly cleaned and new oil leaks out regularly. It remains a bittersweet victory, as two plaintiffs did not live to see the end of this trial.
Tougher legislation call
FoE added that the compensation decision is a warning to all Dutch multi-national corporations involved in worldwide injustice. Based on court findings, FoE Netherlands/ International are calling for European Union and international legislations to hold businesses accountable for harm done overseas. FoE feels that victims should not wait 13 years for justice and better EU laws are needed to hold European trans-national companies liable for happenings in their supply chain.