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Nigerians can now sue British company Shell for oil leaks

The supreme court in England has decided that the oil company Shell can be brought before English courts by those affected because of the environmental damage the spills cause to the Nigeria Delta. This means Nigerians can now sue the Shell oil company.

The court granted more than 40,000 residents of Nigeria’s Niger Delta the right to bring damages claims in England over Shell’s pollution.

Zeit reported the court of appeal in The Hague, the Netherlands, recently ruled that Shell had to compensate the around 40,000 affected people in Nigeria for the oil pollution. The company was liable for contamination from oil leaks in 2004 and 2005, it said.

DW said that Residents of the Nigerian regions of Ogale and Bille had sued. They accuse the oil company and its Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC, of ​​being responsible for the contamination of soils and waters through decades of oil leaks. 

They are demanding compensation and a cleaning of the floors. For five years now, they have been calling for the case to be heard in a London court, arguing that they cannot get their rights in a Nigerian court.

In 2017, a British court dismissed the lawsuit. At the time, the judges ruled that Shell could not be held responsible for the wrongdoing of its Nigerian subsidiary. The five judges of the Supreme Court found in the judgement but “significant errors of law”. Accordingly, the court had focused too much on the relationship between Shell and its subsidiary.

READ MORE: German companies that violate human rights abroad to be fined up to 800,000 euros

Now that Nigerians can sue Shell Oil what is their reaction?

Shell have reacted with ‘disappointment’ claiming that the reason for the leaks and oil spills was due to criminal activities such as oil theft and acts of sabotage on the pipelines. They had also said they are not legally liable for the Nigerian subsidiary in Europe.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys welcomed the ruling, saying the decision will make it difficult for international corporations to block similar lawsuits in the future. Attorney Daniel Leader of the London law firm Leigh Day, which represents the plaintiffs, said the Supreme Court ruling now gives the people of Ogale and Bille “real hope” of a Shell purge.

This sends the right message to other corporation and companies in Africa that have parent companies abroad not to be taken advantage of.

Multinational corporations like Shell have a duty of care and they will be held accountable for human rights abuses and environmental damage caused by their subsidiaries. The German court ruled just recently that German companies that violate human rights abroad to be fined up to 800,000 euros. (we wrote about it HERE.)

Source: DW,,