Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International today filed an official complaint against oil giant Shell for breaches of basic standards for responsible business set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Amnesty and Friends of the Earth believe that Shell breached OECD guidelines by using discredited and misleading information, in order to blame the majority of oil pollution in the Niger Delta region on sabotage and criminal activity.
In the mid 1990s Shell accepted that much of the oil pollution in the Niger Delta was due to the company’s own failures. However, Shell now blames sabotage by communities and criminals for most of the problem, citing misleading figures that purport to show as much as 98% of oil spills being caused by sabotage.
While sabotage is a problem in the Niger Delta, Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth have repeatedly challenged Shell’s use of such figures, which have been strongly criticized by environmental groups and communities. Under Nigerian law, when spills are classified as being the result of sabotage, Shell has no liability with respect to compensation for damage done to people or their livelihoods.
Shell’s figures are totally lacking in credibility. Widespread oil pollution is a key problem caused by oil industry in the Niger Delta, but the oil spill investigation system is totally lacking in independence.
By Anna Phelan, Amnesty International USA’s Business and Economic Relations Group
Since the release of Amnesty International’s report Petroleum, Pollution and Poverty in the Niger Delta (30 June 2009), our global membership has acted to get Shell’s new CEO Peter Voser to come clean on the impacts of its operations in the Niger Delta, during his first 100 days on the job. Here’s one of my favorite actions:
AI’s report looks at the impact of pollution and environmental damage caused by the oil industry on the human rights of the people living in the oil producing areas of Niger Delta. Some of the key concerns highlighted in the report focus on health and livelihood — the lack of access to potable water and damage to fisheries and local farming.
When will Shell do more? AI-France says that over 2,000 cards and 20,000 electronic postcards have been distributed, but the company has not heard appeals by Amnesty International. AI-UK’s Protect the Human blog says Shell has not responded to their 3500+ emails. AIUSA members can lend their support to this global action. Very simply, we’re asking Voser to clean up oil pollution in the Niger Delta, clean up Shell’s practices, and come clean on the information Shell holds on pollution in the region, but hasn’t made public.
The reality is that Shell’s pollution and exploitation in the Niger Delta has created a hell on earth for the 31 million people who live in a region that’s home to one of the top 10 most important wetland and coastal marine ecosystems in the world. Voser’s 100th day as CEO of Royal Dutch Shell is October 8th. Remind him that we’re watching. Tell him to come clean on Shell’s pollution in the Niger Delta.
My mom called me to tell me that a settlement was reached in the Wiwa v. Shell case. She saw a report on the nightly television news earlier this week. That’s how I knew this story was really big news. In Tuesday’s Guardian (UK), Ken Saro-Wiwa Jr. talks about the families’ decision to accept the settlement with Shell. He says, the choice “enabled [the plaintiffs] to advertise the settlement as a living, breathing example of how and why the commitment to peace, non-violence and dialogue is the best way to resolve the challenges in the Niger Delta.” What better advertisement than international news coverage?
When I explain the work Amnesty International members undertake, I point out that there are different levels of success. Our letter writing can result in the release of a prisoner of conscience. Meetings with diplomats and elected officials can lead to the passage of critical legislation in support of human rights. Many of us wrote countless letters to Nigerian government officials when Ken Saro-Wiwa was adopted as a prisoner of conscience in the 1990s. After his execution, we continued to work closely with the Nigerian diaspora in the U.S., vowing to “Never Forget” Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni 9. We held ceremonies – outside the United Nations, in front of the Nigerian Consulate in D.C., and in our communities – to rename streets Ken Saro-Wiwa Place or Ogoni 9 Square in their honor.
Sometimes we don’t immediately see the success we hoped for. And while Amnesty International has not participated in the lawsuits brought against Shell, our continued work on corporate accountability issues will benefit from Wiwa v. Shell’s successes. Michael D. Goldhaber’s A Win for Wiwa, A Win for Shell, A Win for Corporate Human Rights at The AmLaw Daily offers a comprehensive summary of the benchmarks achieved through the settlement. Stay tuned for the next big news story, we’re well on our way towards more success.