January 31st, 2013 • On Wednesday Oil corporation Shell was ordered by the court in The Hague to pay compensation to a Nigerian farmer who has suffered the consequences of pollution for which the company has been held responsible. The conclusion of the case was that Shell had not done enough to prevent sabotage of oil pipelines. SP Member of Parliament Sharon Gesthuizen, describing herself as ‘pleased’ by this section of the judgement, notes that ‘this is the first time that a judge has stated that Shell has a duty to do as much as possible to prevent sabotage of oil pipelines’ and that this is ‘an important step’.
On the other hand, Gesthuizen expresses astonishment that the court did not conclude that Dutch parent company Shell has no responsibility for the workings of its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC, and that Shell does not in all cases have the duty of care in preventing leakages. ‘Shell knows very well that in many places in Nigeria oil pollution has made a huge mess,’ she argues. ‘The company knows as well as anyone else that underlying this problem are corruption and authorities which simply look the other way. Despite this the firm has kept quiet about these issues for many years, and purely out of self-interest. That’s worse than appalling and absolutely reprehensible. I had hoped therefore also that the judge would do more to address this matter.’
Oil pollution in Nigeria (2010)
The Nigerian law, furthermore, clearly makes the oil corporation responsible for cleaning up oil pollution, regardless of whether it is due to poor maintenance or to sabotage. ‘Despite these reservations,’ insists Gesthuizen, ‘the ruling is a victory for the inhabitants whom Shell have failed to protect.’