After 13 years of continuous litigation, a Dutch Court of Appeal has ordered oil giant, Shell, compensate Nigerian farmers from Niger Delta villages who alleged widespread pollution on their land in a case brought before the court.
The court, an appeals court in The Hague, in its ruling on Friday, ordered that Shell’s Nigerian branch must pay for damage caused by oil spills.
It also held the Anglo-Dutch parent company Royal Dutch Shell liable for installing new pipeline equipment to prevent further devastating spills in the Niger Delta region.
“Shell Nigeria is sentenced to compensate farmers for damages,” the court said, adding that the amount of damages would be determined later. It did not specify how many of the four farmers would receive compensation.
The farmers first sued Shell in 2008 over pollution in their villages Goi, Oruma, and Ikot Ada Udo, in southeastern Nigeria, in a case backed by the Netherlands arm of environment group Friends of the Earth.
“In the Uruma cases Shell Nigeria and… Royal Dutch Shell are ordered to equip the pipeline with a leak detection system so that environmental damage can be limited in the future,” the court said.
Shell Nigeria should have shut down oil supplies on the day of the spill in the cases in Goi, it said.
A key issue in the case is the principle of whether multinationals in the Netherlands can be held responsible for the actions of their subsidiaries abroad. While the court did not hold the parent company directly responsible, the order to install a leak detection system did indicate a degree of liability.
The decision can be appealed in the Dutch Supreme Court. However, it represents a step forward for the plaintiffs in a case that is breaking new legal ground.
The company claimed that saboteurs were responsible for leaks in underground oil pipes that have polluted the delta. Shell also argued that it should not be held legally responsible for the actions of a foreign subsidiary.