New Telegraph

S’Court affirms right of Nigerian communities to sue Shell in UK

Reprieve came the way of Nigerian farmers yesterday, when the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in English courts, after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater. The decision comes almost two years after a seminal ruling by the Supreme Court in a case involving mining firm Vedanta.

The judgment allowed nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers to sue Vedanta in England for alleged pollution in Africa. That move was seen as a victory for rural communities seeking to hold parent companies accountable for environmental disasters. Vedanta ultimately settled out of court in January.

However, Saturday Telegraph gathered that the landmark decision followed arguments by senior judges that the UK-domiciled Shell, one of the world’s biggest energy companies, did have a common law duty of care, in the latest case to test whether multinationals can be held to account for the acts of overseas subsidiaries. Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the group of Nigerians had argued that the parent company Shell owed them a duty of care because it either had significant control of, and was responsible for, its subsidiary SPDC. Shell countered that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims.

A partner at Leigh Day, Daniel Leader, said: “(The ruling) also represents a watershed moment in the ac-countability of multinational companies. Increasingly impoverished communities are seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account and this judgment will significantly increase their ability to do so.

“UK common law is also used in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand so this is a very helpful precedent.” Nigeria’s Ogale and Bille communities had alleged that their lives and health have suffered because repeated oil spills have contaminated the land, swamps, groundwater and waterways and that there has been no adequate cleaning or remediation. SPDC is the operator of oil pipelines in a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation which holds a 55 per cent stake, Shell which holds 30 per cent, France’s Total with 10 per cent, Italy’s Eni with five per cent.

A Shell spokesman said the decision was disappointing, stressing that: “Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment.” Shell has blamed sabotage for oil spills.

It said in its annual report published last March that SPDC, which produces around 1 million barrels of oil per day, saw crude oil spills caused by theft or pipeline sabotage surge by 41% in 2019. Commenting, Shell CEO, Ben van Beurden, said last week that the firm would take “another hard look at its onshore oil operations” in the west African country

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