UK Supreme Court should recognise Shell’s responsibilities for devastating rights impacts of Niger Delta oil spills

The CORE Coalition and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) have jointly submitted evidence as interveners in a landmark case before the UK Supreme Court brought by some 40,000 people from the Ogale and Bille communities of the Niger Delta (Nigeria) against oil major Royal Dutch Shell (Okpabi et al vs Royal Dutch Shell et al) for serious harm to their human rights and well-being.

On 23 June, the Supreme Court will consider whether Shell can arguably be held liable for pollution caused by its Nigerian subsidiary, which destroyed farming land, wiped out fish stocks and poisoned drinking water. In 2018 the Court of Appeal ruled that Shell did not exercise enough control over the subsidiary to hold it responsible for the well-being of those affected by the oil spills.

This is the latest stage in a four-year legal action brought by communities seeking compensation for the catastrophic environmental damage caused by widespread oil spills.

The CORE and ICJ submission sets out the applicability of comparative law and standards regarding companies’ responsibilities in relation to human rights and environmental protection. These show that Royal Dutch Shell PLC (Shell) had a duty of care in relation to the communities affected by its Nigerian subsidiary’s activities.

In 2019, CORE and the ICJ made a similar submission to the UK Supreme Court in a case brought by Zambian communities against mining giant Vedanta. In a groundbreaking decision allowing the case to proceed, the Court ruled that companies can be held to account for public commitments regarding their subsidiaries’ operating standards.