Saturday, May 30, 2009

Decisive moment in corporate accountability: Shell on Trial for human rights abuses

A trial to begin this week in the US Federal Court involving the multinational oil and energy giant Shell is a decisive moment in corporate accountability and should be of interest to all West Australians. Here in Western Australia the multinational corporation Shell is a big player. Shell’s Australian upstream operations to find and supply liquefied gas are based in Perth. Shell has large gas reserves in Western Australia and maintains a substantial portfolio of exploration sites off the WA coast. Shell is also major player in large scale mining and energy operations in WA, including the Gorgon Project, the largest energy project ever considered in Australia.

Twelve years after the first case was filed against Shell, Wiwa v Shell is finally being heard in a Manhattan courthouse. The case is based on Shell’s alleged collaboration with the Nigerian dictatorship in the violent suppression of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta during the 1990’s.

The trial is being bought against Shell by the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa and several Ogoni people from the Niger Delta in Nigeria where Shell has massive oil operations, which continue to cause displacement, ecological damage, pollution and deforestation. Saro Wiwa who was an internationally respected writer and activist and a native of the Niger Delta was executed by the Nigerian authorities in 1995 He had spent 5 years campaigning against Shell’s oil operations in the Niger delta.

The case alleges that Shell conspired with the government to try Saro Wiwa and other leaders and bribed local leaders to testify against Saro Wiwa. The case will also hear long standing allegations that Shell encouraged and supported the Nigerian Mobile Police Force to commit massacres and violent suppression of Ogoni protestors and villagers.

The law suit alleges that Shell helped to suppress the grass roots Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people, and its leader internationally respected writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. The case is important because plaintiffs are charging not only Shell but also the former Managing Director of Shell in Nigeria with:

• Conspiring with the Nigerian military to prosecute and finally execute Saro-Wiwa and his eight colleagues
• Arming, financing and transporting Nigerian military which used force to suppress opposition to Shell’s operations and resulted in 2000 Ogoni people being killed and 30,000 made homeless
• Wanton destruction of villages throughout the Ogoni region, where over 3000 oil spills have occurred and gas flares are located on private property

The trial has significant implications not only for Shell, but also for the way energy corporations can be held to account for the social and environmental damage they create and the human rights abuses that result from their activities.

The law suit is not just charging Shell but the former Managing Director of Shell in Nigeria. A reminder that individuals can and should be held responsible for corporate behaviour. If successful this will be the first time in the US a corporation has been found guilty of human rights abuses. No large multinational corporation has ever been found liable of human rights abuses by a US jury

Shell has a long history of social and environmental damage and human rights abuses, as well as concern about its business practices . In recent times the corporation has tried hard to resurrect its reputation and portray itself as a model corporate citizen, however the trial is a reminder of the company’s long dark history.

Further information on Ken Saro Wiwa and the trial can be found at

Further information on Shell's long history of environmental and human rights abuses can be found at a number of sites including:

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