In Shelling out has the oil giant shirked responsibility?

Controversy and debate continues to surround Shell’s decision to pay out $15.5 million in compensation to the families of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others who were either hanged or maimed in 1995.

According to BBC News, the lawyers are described as being ‘thrilled' at the payout. Who can blame them, after they have fought this multinational corporation for 13 years

But I can’t help siding more with the feeling of Ken Wiwa Jr, where in his piece in today’s Guardian, he states that there was no ‘champagne cork-popping’ moment but more like a sense of relief that perhaps this drawn-out case has come to an end.

For more than a decade Shell tried to stop this case from seeing the inside of a courtroom. But because of the families and lawyers’ persistence, two weeks ago Shell saw itself in the docks facing charges of complicity in right abuses against activists campaigning against their activities in the Niger Delta.

According to the Independent, the suit accused Shell of colluding with the authorities to thwart Ogoni tribesmen trying to expose alleged human rights and environmental abuses by the company. The claimants also declared that that the multinational supplied the authorities with weapons and asked police to shoot protesting villagers.

Heavy charges indeed, and some would argue that claimants should have not accepted the compensation but awaited the decision of the full outcome of this trial.

But as Ken Wiwa Jr. points out in his comment piece, in the end ‘it is only those who are intimately involved, who have everything to lose and everything to gain that have to make a decision that will not satisfy everyone.’ 

Whether one sees this as a lucky escape for Shell or a victory for the claimants, what is clear is that precedent has been set.  Multinationals now realise that they are not exempt from corporate accountability in foreign jurisdictions.

One of Amnesty International’s main strands of the Demand Dignity campaign on poverty and human rights is to ensure that companies are held to account in whichever country they operate. Globalisation has brought unprecedented power and influence for corporations, but when companies violate human rights and drive communities deeper into poverty there are rarely adequate legal mechanisms in place to hold companies to account. This settlement sends a clear message to corporations.

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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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