The Court of Appeal in The Hague on Friday ruled in favour of four Nigerian farmers and Friends of the Earth, an environmental organisation, in a long-running legal dispute against the energy giant, Shell.
Milieudefensie, the Dutch arm of Friends of the Earth and the farmers first took Shell to court back in 2008 for oil spills in Goi, Oruma and Ikot Ada Udo in Nigeria. In 2013, the court in The Hague ruled that Shell was responsible for the oil spills, but only in Ikot Ada Udo and also observed that the parent company Royal Dutch Shell cannot be held liable for the activities of its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Nigeria. Following this verdict, both parties sought an appeal, with Shell consistently arguing that a Dutch court can not rule on Shell’s activities in Nigeria.
In 2015, the first verdict in the appeal favoured Milieudefensie, where the judge ruled that a Dutch court was authorised to rule on the oil spills in Nigeria. Finally, in 2021 Milieudefensie and the farmers had a landslide victory. The court ruled that Shell Nigeria was liable for oil pollution at all three villages in the Niger Delta and that the parent company Royal Dutch Shell had also violated its duty of care. Shell Nigeria must also compensate three of the four Nigerian claimants for the oil pollution on their land.
This case drew particular attention because, for the first time, a company and its foreign subsidiary have been tried before a Dutch court for breaching their duty of care abroad. This could potentially impact suits filed in the future against multinational companies operating in multiple jurisdictions.
Donald Pols, director of Milieudefensie said:
This is fantastic news for the affected farmers. It is enormous that Shell has to compensate for the damage. This is also a warning for all Dutch transnational corporations involved in injustice worldwide. Victims of environmental pollution, land grabbing or exploitation now have a better chance to win a legal battle against the companies involved. People in developing countries are no longer without rights in the face of transnational corporations.
The matter concerning the oil well at Ikot Ada Udo requires further clarification because the positions of the parties differ on the matter of whether “the pollution still needs to be cleaned up and to where the pollution has spread”; the court ordered that the case will be continued on this matter.