Four Nigerian villagers took Royal Dutch Shell to court on Thursday in a landmark pollution case that campaigners said could open the door to more compensation claims against international companies.
The fishermen and farmers, together with the Friends of the Earth campaign group, accuse the oil major of polluting land and waterways around their homes in the Niger Delta region of Africa’s top energy producer.
Shell has denied responsibility, saying the leaks were caused by sabotage.
The villagers launched their claim in a civil court in The Hague, where Shell has its joint global headquarters.
It was the first time a Dutch-registered company had been sued in a Dutch court for offences allegedly carried out by a foreign subsidiary.
Friends of the Earth said the claim, if successful, could open up a new way for plaintiffs to take on multinationals – by suing their parent companies in their home countries.
Friends of the Earth said other companies could face similar claims in European Union cities if it won the case.
“It opens up a range of possibilities for people from poor countries to use the legal system to seek compensation from companies,” said Geert Ritsema, international affairs coordinator at the environmental group during a break in the proceedings.
If the villagers are able to pursue Shell in The Hague, and the Dutch Court finds that a corporation can be liable, would this impact how the Supreme Court considers the law of nations in Kiobel? Granted this case does not involve torture, though it may be the case that the stated offenses could be found to violate some norms of international law. Interesting development to keep an eye on.