Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Signs of oil spills can be seen in the water in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on Aug. 1, 2018.

Ron Bousso/Reuters

The U.K. Supreme Court on Friday allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Royal Dutch Shell in English courts after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater.

Senior judges said there was an arguable case that U.K.-domiciled Shell, one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, is responsible, in the latest test of whether multinationals can be held to account for the acts of overseas subsidiaries.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the group of Nigerians argued that the parent company Shell owed them a duty of care because it either had significant control of, and was responsible for, its subsidiary SPDC. Shell countered that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims.

Story continues below advertisement

“[The ruling] also represents a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies. Increasingly impoverished communities are seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account and this judgment will significantly increase their ability to do so,” said Daniel Leader, a partner at Leigh Day.

He added that, “U.K. common law is also used in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand so this is a very helpful precedent.”

The decision comes almost two years after a seminal ruling by the Supreme Court in a case involving mining firm Vedanta. The judgment allowed nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers to sue Vedanta in Britain for alleged pollution in Africa.

That move was seen as a victory for rural communities seeking to hold parent companies accountable for environmental disasters. Vedanta ultimately settled out of court in January.

Nigeria’s Ogale and Bille communities allege their lives and health have suffered because repeated oil spills have contaminated the land, swamps, groundwater and waterways and that there has been no adequate cleaning or remediation.

SPDC is the operator of oil pipelines in a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp., which holds a 55 per cent stake, Shell, which holds 30 per cent, France’s Total SA with 10 per cent, Italy’s Eni SpA with 5 per cent.

A Shell spokesman said the decision was disappointing.

Story continues below advertisement

“Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment,” Shell said.

Shell has blamed sabotage for the oil spills. It said in its annual report published last March that SPDC, which produces around one million barrels of oil a day, saw crude oil spills caused by theft or pipeline sabotage surge by 41 per cent in 2019.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said last week that the firm would take “another hard look at its onshore oil operations” in the West African country.

The ruling is the second judgment against Shell this year regarding claims against its Nigerian operations. In a landmark Dutch ruling two weeks ago, an appeals court held Shell responsible for multiple oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay unspecified damages to farmers, in a victory for environmentalists.

The Leigh Day law firm said the amount of compensation sought would be quantified as the case enters the trial stage. Shell could, however, try to settle the matter out of court.

In 2015, Shell agreed to pay out £55-million ($97-million) to the Bodo community in Nigeria in compensation for two oil spills, which was the largest out-of-court settlement to date relating to Nigerian oil spills.

Story continues below advertisement

Be smart with your money. Get the latest investing insights delivered right to your inbox three times a week, with the Globe Investor newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Tickers mentioned in this story
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies