Shell versus human rights in the Niger Delta

Shell fuelled human rights abuses in Nigeria by paying huge contracts to armed groups who destroyed Nigerian towns, according to a new report

Global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell fuelled human rights abuses in Nigeria by paying huge contracts to armed militants, according to a new report published by Platform, a UK charity that campaigns for social and ecological justice, and supported a coalition of NGOs.

Counting the Cost:Corporations and Human Rights Abuses in the Niger Delta [PDF] focuses on eight cases of human rights abuse in the ‘eastern division’ of Shell’s operations in Nigeria,  part of a wider pattern of violence that is being fuelled by routine oil company activities.

The report implicates Shell in cases of serious violence in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta region from 2000 to 2010. It uncovers how Shell’s routine payments to armed militants exacerbated conflicts, in one case leading to the destruction of Rumuekpe town where it is estimated that at least 60 people were killed.

According to Platform’s report, Shell continues to rely on Nigerian government forces who have perpetrated systematic human rights abuses against local residents, including unlawful killings, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

The past decade in the Delta has brought brutal government crackdowns, the rise of armed groups and a multiplicity of intense conflicts.  Shell has played an active role in fuelling conflict and violence in a variety of forms, and is complicit in killing and torture. Shell contractors, including multinationals like Halliburton, Daewoo and Saipem, have followed Shell’s example.

Key findings include:

  1. Platform has heard testimony and seen contracts that implicate Shell in regularly assisting armed militants with lucrative payments. In one case in 2010, Shell is alleged to have transferred over $159,000 to a group credibly linked to militia violence.
  2. Shell admits that from 2006 onwards, the company paid thousands of dollars every month to armed militants in the town of Rumuekpe, in the full knowledge that the money was used to sustain three years of conflict.
  3. A company manager exposes structural problems with Shell’s ‘community development’ programme, claiming that “the money is not going into the rightful hands,” and that poor community engagement caused Shell to shut down a third of its oil production in August 2011 after 12 oil spills in the Adibawa area.

NGOs from the UK, Netherlands and Nigeria are demanding that Shell put an end to over five decades of social and environmental devastation and break its close ties with government forces and other armed groups responsible for abuses. Platform’s report also condemns the Nigerian government for failing to protect the rights of its citizens and urges President Goodluck Jonathan to find political solutions to the Delta crisis instead of military responses.

Ben Amunwa from Platform:

“This research sheds new light on Shell’s active role in human rights abuses during a decade of terrible violence in the Niger Delta. Shell claims it has nothing to do with the crisis, but the company is involved in widespread abuses and militarisation. While Shell cites ‘security issues’ as a convenient excuse for its appalling environmental record, it has also failed to take the necessary steps to resolve conflicts. In many cases, Shell’s activities have created insecurity.”

Nnimmo Bassey of Friends of the Earth International:

“Shell’s obligations are clear: it must clean up after decades of devastating oil spills, end the illegal practice of gas flaring and compensate the victims of human rights abuses in Nigeria. It is unacceptable that Shell continues to deny responsibility, while pushing communities deeper into poverty and fuelling destructive conflicts.”

Geert Ritsema from Friends of the Earth Netherlands:

“Shell’s divisive practices have led to daily human rights violations in the Niger Delta. Many of the victims have no access to justice and cannot afford to take the oil giant to court. Lawsuits in Nigeria can take decades to resolve and the remedies are often inadequate. Yet Shell must be held accountable for its environmental destruction and complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria, and home governments like the UK and the Netherlands must ensure that remedies are available and accessible to the victims.”

The UN recently issued a damning report on the ecological impact of oil spills in Ogoni, many of which are from Shell’s facilities. The UN Environment Programme found that Shell had operated in Nigeria below international standards and the company had certified heavily contaminated sites as “clean.”

Shell has admitted liability for two massive oil spills in the Ogoni community of Bodo in 2008 to 2009. The company now faces a compensation payout estimated at $410 million and could be forced to clean up the damage

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Shell in Nigeria

(From the Platform report)

Shell has held a dominant position in Nigeria’s oil industry since 1937, when the business then known as Shell D’Arcy was granted an exclusive concession to explore the whole of Nigeria. Commercial oil production began in 1956 at the village of Oloibiri by Shell-BP, (now Royal Dutch Shell) and expanded rapidly across the Delta region. Today, Nigeria provides approximately 12% of Shell’s global oil extraction.26 Shell is expected to expand its operations in the coming years with capital investment of $40 billion, mostly in offshore, deepwater oil blocks.27 Other companies active in Nigeria include the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and local subsidiaries of Chevron, ExxonMobil, Eni, Total, Addax Petroleum (now owned by Sinopec), plus a range of Nigerian firms.

Shell has a number of companies in Nigeria which extract oil from onshore, near shore and offshore sites in the Niger Delta and operate the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant at Bonny terminal. This report focuses on Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd (SPDC), which Platform refers to simply as ‘Shell’ or ‘SPDC’. As the operator of SPDC, Shell is the overall decision-maker and manager, responsible for running SPDC’s oil extraction, oil spill response, security, community relations and other social and environmental issues.

Other Shell affiliates include Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO), which conducts offshore extraction through production sharing agreements with NNPC; Shell Nigeria Gas Ltd (SNG) which distributes gas to industry in Nigeria; and Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG), in which Shell is technical adviser and holds a 25.6% share. All Shell affiliates are subsidiaries of the parent company, Royal Dutch Shell plc, based in London and The Hague.

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