Ethical Performance
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Shell’s Nigeria opponents handed new ammunition

November 2011

Shell’s activities in Nigeria are once again in the spotlight after the simultaneous release of secret court documents, an NGO report on its operations and a UN environmental assessment.

In the most direct evidence yet that the oil multinational funded the suppression of opponents in the country’s delta region, court documents showing its relationship with the Nigerian military – including secret memos, faxes and sworn witness statements by former Shell employees – has been published.  

Shell settled the now-famous case over the death of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa in 2009, but opponents say the money, accepted by plaintiffs at the time, was paid to suppress damaging evidence of its collaboration with state brutality.

The evidence contains eyewitness testimonies that soldiers were transported in Shell buses and helicopters, and were paid ‘cash allowances’ by the company.

In a statement, Shell did not deny the evidence, but said its current code of conduct should be enough to testify its innocence, adding: “We have long acknowledged that the legitimate payments we make to contractors, as well as the social investments we make in the Niger Delta region, may cause friction in and between communities. We nevertheless work hard to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of the benefits of our presence.

“In view of the high rate of criminal violence in the Niger Delta, the federal government, as majority owner of oil facilities, deploys security forces to protect people and assets.

Suggestions in the report that [Shell] directs or controls military activities are, therefore, completely untrue.”

The company made similar public statements after the 2009 settlement, but the new ‘exhibits’ support, in some detail, the claim that Shell made payments to Nigeria’s armed forces for excursions that led directly to killings and human rights abuses. Lawyers are reluctant to comment on the legal significance of the publication, citing market sensitivities around the issue.

In separate evidence from the region against oil companies in general, the UN Environment Programme has released a report on Ogoniland that, some commentators claim, may trigger more lawsuits over pollution.

The environmental assessment has apparently made certain technical information available for the first time, the absence of which caused many previous cases to collapse.

On the premise that “pollution from over 50 years of oil operations has penetrated further and deeper than many may have supposed”, Unep considers the effects of water contamination, oil spills and other “environmental devestation”.

It looks extensively at Shell, saying that the company’s already “inadequate” procedures “have not been applied, creating public health and safety issues” across oilfields and surrounding areas.

The news comes as another, separate investigation by a UK NGO coalition claims that Shell played an “active role in human rights abuses during a decade of terrible violence in the Niger Delta” from 2000 to 2010 and is still “involved in widespread abuses and militarisation”.

A report by Platform, which counts Friends of the Earth and the Centre for Environment, Human Rights & Development among its members, concludes that the company is responsible for “daily human rights violations”.

Shell disputes the report’s findings.

Royal Dutch Shell | Africa | Environment

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