(5 mins read)
The UK Supreme Court has now ruled that the Nigerian oil-polluted communities can sue the Dutch Shell company in the English courts.
The decision comes as a victory for the communities after a five-year battle with the company.
The Niger Delta communities of more than 40,000 people say decades of pollution have severely affected their lives, health, and the local environment.
The Supreme Court, the UK’s final appeal court for civil cases, ruled that the cases brought by the Bille community and the Ogale people of Ogoniland against Royal Dutch Shell were arguable and could proceed in the English courts.
Royal Dutch Shell did not dispute that pollution had been caused but argued it could not be held legally responsible for its Nigerian subsidiary. Shell is responsible for about 50% of the delta’s oil production.
Last year the Court of Appeal agreed with the company, but the Supreme Court said on Friday that that decision was flawed.
The communities, represented by law firm Leigh Day, argued Shell owed a common law duty of care to individuals who had suffered serious harm as a result of the systemic health, safety, and environmental failings of one of its overseas subsidiaries.
The region provides most of Nigeria’s government revenues but the communities say governments have neglected their rights by allowing oil companies to exploit the region. People can no longer fish or farm because of the devastation. Locals have also been dying and catching diseases from the polluted waters.
In 2011 the UN concluded it would take 30 years to clear up the vast amounts of pollution in the Niger Delta.
The water is now too dirty for people to drink. Despite promises to provide clean water, people must often either have to buy bottled water or drink from contaminated sources.
In 2006 a Nigerian court ordered the Shell company and partners to pay $1.5bn to the Ijaw people of Bayelsa state for environmental degradation in the area.
The decision received this Friday is a step in the right direction to hold multinational companies accountable.
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