Campaigners are crushed by a High Court ruling refusing the continuation of pollution claims by thousands of Nigerians against oil giant, Shell.
The action was brought against Royal Dutch Shell on behalf of two communities struck by oil spills.
Shell welcomed the dismissal of the claims, arguing that the spills were not their responsibility but were in fact due to sabotage, theft from pipelines and illegal refining.
The first claim was brought by more than 2,000 fishing families in the Bille Kingdom. The second was brought by the Ogale community of more than 40,000 people in the Niger Delta.
The UN found that groundwater contamination in Ogale was over 450 times the legal limit as a result of multiple oil spills.
Four years after the UN findings, an investigation was undertaken by Amnesty International, confirming that the oil spill had not been cleared up.
However, the ruling concluded that Shell cannot be held responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, despite profiting directly from their actions.
Disappointed campaigners were hoping that this case would set an important precedent on jurisdiction, enabling other cases to be brought against UK based companies for their actions overseas.
Amnesty International’s business and human rights campaigner, Joe Westby, has made a bold statement on the matter:
“The judge’s decision is blatantly at odds with how multinationals like Shell work in today’s globalized world. Too often they hide behind the legal fiction that their subsidiaries operate completely separate to them.
‘If multinationals are allowed to reap profits from their companies around the world without being held responsible when they commit human rights abuses, then abuses can – and will – take place.’
It is incredibly difficult for rural communities to achieve justice against large companies in the Nigerian judicial process.
His Royal Highness Emere Godwin Bebe Okpabi, king of the Ogale community said: ‘We know we cannot get justice there.
‘A community near us got a huge judgment against Shell but the appeals have taken 10 years so far.
‘In one case it has taken a community 32 years so far to get justice.’
In response to the ruling today he stated: “Our community is disappointed but not discouraged by this judgment and we are confident that, as in the Netherlands, the court of appeal will see things differently.
‘Royal Dutch Shell makes billions of dollars of profit each year from Nigerian oil, but our communities which host its infrastructure have been left environmentally devastated.’
Chief Temebo, speaking on behalf of the Bille Council of Chiefs, emphasises the importance of a successful appeal: ‘If the claim does not continue in the English courts, we have no hope that the environment will ever be cleaned up and the fish will ever return to our waters.
‘Shell will do nothing unless they are ordered to by the English courts.’