Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Hell still not frozen over by Chuck Baclagon
June 13, 2009, 7:01 am
Filed under: Greenpeace, Stop climate change | Tags: , , , ,

From Making Waves

This week, Shell paid $15.5m to the Ogoni people in Nigeria, an out of court settlement after a 13 year struggle. I read that Shell’s lawyers apparently once said that Shell would only settle when “hell freezes over” and they were “skating on it” – (perhaps that explains why Shell is now the most carbon intensive oil company on the planet – a desperate bid to keep hell nice and cosy).

Unfortunately I have now found that this quote was in fact from Chevron‘s lawyer in relation to a similiar case – but I would guess there was a not entirely dissimilar sentiment involved here. (Strangely, Shell’s former Group Auditor Bill Campbell also told Shell’s senior execs in 2007 that “hell would freeze over” before they would appear in court to clear their names. These guys must clean up at the annual Oil Industry Buzzword Bingo convention).

Shell paid this money (a “humanitarian gesture”, they assure us – nothing to do with all that dirty laundry or anything) to settle charges that it colluded with the Nigerian military to commit serious human rights abuses, including conspiring to bring about the conviction and execution of Ogoni leader Ken Saro-Wiwa (pictured, on a mural in Ireland) and eight others.

At first, I was bitterly disappointed with this outcome. After all, $15.5m is spare change to a company that makes about $31bn profit, the most in British corporate history (January 2009). Not to mention that Shell’s public relations offensive humanitarian concern apparently doesn’t extend as far as actually doing anything to halt the ongoing damage to the Nigerian environment and people. And now that dirty laundry could be buried at the bottom of the laundry basket forever (although Channel 4’s doing quite a bit of digging down there, and the results ain’t pretty).

I fear this result also doesn’t really set a strong enough legal precedent, although lawyers have been quoted in the ever-hopeful UK press saying it would “encourage companies to seriously consider the social and environmental impact their operations may have on a community or face the possibility of a suit”. Really? When a bit of spare change and a press release can fix it?

On the other hand, this shows that at least a court case against a multinational in another jurisdiction is possible, and that Shell was scared enough to bail out before a jury – which has probably watched quite a bit of CSI – got hold of all that evidence.

Despite the bravery and courage of these activists who took Shell to task for 13 years, I think multinationals like this won’t stop until hell freezes over – or their bank accounts do. I guess their lawyers can keep their ice-skates in the cupboard for a while yet.

But thanks to those same activists, there will be more cases like this, and next time, I hope they go to trial and bring much bigger consequences. You can read more at the campaign site or in the Guardian article about the case.

– Adele

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