Net closing in on Shell

It has been a long time coming, but today it looks like the day of reckoning is finally coming for Royal Dutch Shell.
Pollution caused by oil companies in the Niger Delta over the last six decades has destroyed what was once a picturesque wetland. There have been thousands and thousands of recorded oil spills in the region – and Shell are one of the companies responsible.

The spills hit the poorest hardest. Reliant on fishing and agriculture, they have seen their livelihoods destroyed and have been pushed deeper and deeper into poverty. The accessible fish stock, which remains a staple of the villagers’ diet, has been severely depleted, the air has a stench of oil, and the water is stained black from the pollution. All detailed in our report on the area last year.

Yet, the oil companies operating there have largely managed to avoid paying up. But those days could soon be over, according to the findings of a new independent report from business and human rights specialists at the University of Essex.

The potential liabilities range from sizeable damages for failures to take adequate steps to prevent and clean up oil spills, through to liabilities under USA and European stock exchange rules.  And Amnesty’s estimates reckon the total bill could run into the billions.

It has been a long battle and has attracted the interest of a number of well-known supporters. Hakeem Kae-Kazim, who starred in Black November, a film on the subject, in 2011, has written an opinion piece on the subject. Michael Mansfield QC, meanwhile, has also backed the campaign. While our very own Peter Frankental, Economic Relations Progamme Director of Amnesty International UK, makes his own point here.

Now I don’t expect miracles overnight, Shell hasn’t got the greatest record when it comes to listening to Amnesty’s concerns, but perhaps today’s report might stir a few emotions amongst its shareholders. The harsh reality for them is the longer they leave it, the bigger the bill will become. If self-interest is what motivates them, then the time to act is now.

The net, as the new report says, is finally closing in.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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