Niger Delta: Netherlands must call Shell to account

25 August 2010

Niger Delta: Netherlands must call Shell to account

Together with Labour, the Green Left, the Christian Union and the centrist D66, the SP has tabled a number of parliamentary questions regarding the role played by Dutch oil corporation Shell in the pollution of the Nigeria's Niger Delta. SP Member of Parliament Sharon Gesthuizen says: “The Niger Delta has suffered pollution and extremely dangerous conditions for forty years. Multinationals rake in profits from oil, while the people of the region live in poverty. Shell is a Dutch company and the Netherlands should actively intervene to improve the situation there.”

Earlier in the summer, popular TV documentary series Zembla broadcast a revelatory programme on the situation in the Niger Delta. Shell's activities there were condemned by a number of leading experts, including United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) chief Michael Cowing. It was this which provoked the SP and others to call on the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Economic Affairs for their comments.

Sharon GesthuizenThe SP has on a number of occasions over the last few years asked the government for its comments, as well as urging it to take action, as Gesthuizen explains: “Last summer, when the Amnesty International report on Shell in Nigeria appeared, we immediately called on the government to say what it was going to do about this.” The report showed that residents of the Delta were drinking water polluted by oil extraction and eating fish contaminated with oil and other poisonous substances. Six months later we received a short letter in reply, stating that in the government's view this was not the Netherlands' responsibility, that it was up to Nigeria and to Shell to solve the problem. The question is, when little or nothing has changed, what happens now? “Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen clearly has no inclination to call Shell to account,” says Gesthuizen. “And in the meantime the people of the Niger Delta are suffering the consequences of pollution, extremely dangerous conditions and poverty.”

The SP believes that the Dutch authorities must force private corporations to do business honestly and in ways which do not cause unnecessary pollution or danger. “If a Dutch firm is making money somewhere it's also responsible for events deriving from its activities, even if these are taking place in a far away country,” says Gesthuizen. The news appearing in the media recently regarding the UN report that Shell would be exonerated from responsibility for the problems in the Niger Delta is described by Gesthuizen as nonsense.. "UNEP immediately announced that it never said any such thing,” she says. “The UN enquiry in its entirety is not yet complete and Michael Cowing stands fully by what he said earlier in the summer on Zembla."

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