DUTCH COURT ORDERS SHELL TO PAY DAMAGES FOR NIGERIAN OIL SPILL

02/01/2021

This past Friday, a Dutch appeals court ruled that Royal Dutch Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary was responsible for two pipeline leaks in the Niger River Delta, occurring in 2004 and 2005 in the villages of Oruma and Goi (Reuters and Bloomberg). The case was initially brought forward 13 years ago by four Nigerian farmers whose livelihoods were affected by the leaks, with the support of the environmental group Friends of the Earth. Shell’s defense has claimed the oil spills were caused by sabotage to its equipment, and while this defense was upheld by lower courts, Friday’s decision found that Shell could not prove sabotage beyond a reasonable doubt and it will be made to pay unspecified damages (Associated Press and Financial Times).

This case is the latest in a number of recent legal battles for Shell. Last November, the company lost a Nigerian High Court case that could lead to as much as $44 million in damages for other oil spills. Shell is also awaiting a decision in an Italian trial, where the company has been accused of corruption (Reuters).

The decision marks a victory for environmentalists and is the first time in Dutch court that a multinational corporation has been ordered to uphold a “duty of care” for operations abroad. Observers have stated this may set a precedent that increases the ability of courts to hold multinational corporations accountable in the country of their headquarters for the actions of their overseas subsidiaries (Reuters and Financial Times).