A Dutch appeals court is to rule Friday whether the country’s tribunals can hear a landmark case for damages brought by four Nigerians against oil giant Shell.
The four farmers and fishermen, backed by the Dutch branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth, first filed the case in 2008 against the Anglo-Dutch company in a court case thousands of kilometres from their homes.
They want Shell to clean up devastating oil spills in four heavily-polluted villages in the west African country’s oil-rich Niger Delta, prevent further spills and pay compensation.
But in January 2013 a lower Dutch court threw out most of the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs could not hold Shell’s parent company responsible for the pollution which has for years blighted the southeastern delta system in Africa’s largest oil producer.
In that ruling, judges said Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was partly responsible and ordered it to compensate farmers and fishermen in one claim, in the Delta village of Ikot Ada Udo, but not in the three other claims.
Both the farmers and Shell appealed the ruling.
“The farmers are now asking the Appeals Court to rule that Dutch courts indeed have jurisdiction in all cases involving Shell and its subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Company of Nigeria,” the farmers’ lawyer Channa Samkalden told AFP.
The farmers also want Shell to disclose a number of documents they believe could show the company’s negligence in maintaining its oil pipelines and guarding against sabotage.
In return, court documents reveal, Shell wants the judges to scrap Dutch jurisdiction over cases in Nigeria and rule the farmers’ appeal inadmissible.
Should the judges rule in the farmers’ favour “it will set a landmark precedent in trans-state cases against multinationals and open the door to other similar lawsuits,” Friends of the Earth spokesman Geert Ritsema said.
“However, if it rules against us, the case will, for now, come to an end and we will examine our options for a final decision by the Supreme Court,” the Netherlands’ highest court, Ritsema told AFP.
– ‘Double standards’ –
Environmental groups have long accused multinationals of double standards in developing countries as opposed to regions such as Europe and North America.
They want the Netherlands and other Western nations to pass laws forcing companies to enforce the same environmental responsibility standards where they operate as are used at home.
Nigeria is the world’s 13th largest oil producer, pumping out more than 2.4 million barrels a day, but much of the Niger Delta region remains deeply impoverished.
Shell has been drilling in Nigeria for the last half-century and is the country’s biggest producer.
The UN’s environmental agency released a report in 2011, saying decades of oil pollution in the Niger Delta’s Ogoniland region may require the world’s biggest-ever clean-up and could take up to 30 years.
Earlier this year Shell agreed to clean up two huge spills in the fishing community of Bodo, after agreeing to settle with more than 15,000 claimants in the bulk case.
Under a compensation deal hammered out in London in January, Shell’s Nigerian arm agreed to pay £55 million ($82 million, 75 million euros) to people in Bodo following a three-year legal battle over the 2008 spills that devastated their environment.