Shell has dedicated a full page of its website to reassure customers concerned about the bad publicity given to them by human rights organisations. However, reading the long list of alleged violations against the oil giant, there is certainly nothing to be reassured about.
The best-known case concerns the community of Ogoniland, a region in the Niger River Delta, affected by the rate of pollution caused by heavy oil extraction and frequent spills due to poor safety in the area. Shell has denied the extent of the damage for years, but in 2011 a UN agency, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), issued a warning on how pollution has severely compromised the ecosystem in the region and put the health of its inhabitants at risk.
After an initial offer of damages amounting to just 4,000 GBP (about 5,000 euros), in 2015 the case was then closed with a record compensation of 55 million GBP, the highest ever paid for environmental damage.
But the dispute with Shell is not limited to damages: the most serious charges, in fact, relate to cases of corruption for trying to stop local activists who opposed the extraction of crude oil in the area. Several reports by Amnesty International and others have highlighted the political interweaving between corrupt local governments and the Anglo-Dutch multinational.
The case of the so-called “Ogoni Nine”, i.e. 9 activists executed by hanging in 1995 by the military junta that then led Nigeria’s conspirators, now comes before a Dutch court: according to the widow of Ken Saro Wiwa, writer and founding activist of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Shell played a central role in the execution of her husband and the other 8.
According to a document published by Amnesty International last month, it would have been a top priority for the oil multinational to silence those voices that questioned its presence in Nigeria.
The NGO claims to have seen internal Shell documents confirming that the top management knew that the trial of the nine activists had not been impartial and that the company had even offered the family of Saro Wiwa help to free the man if he had “softened his position” in the oil business.
The controversial relationship between the Nigerian military junta in the 1990s and Shell would never have been properly investigated, said Saro Wiwa’s widow.
The Anglo-Dutch multinational rejected all charges.