‘We have succeeded in reaching a broader audience again,’ says Geert Ritsema, campaign manager for Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), about the recently concluded public campaign Worse Than Bad. The campaign is demanding that Shell take responsibility for the consequences of the oil spills in the Niger delta of Nigeria. The Dutch multinational is not given a moment’s rest: on 11 October Shell is being summoned to court by Milieudefensie and four victimised farmers from the same region. Milieudefensie and SOMO work together in the Fair Green and Global alliance.
The ever-so-handy Shell-app ‘Live With It!‘ for smartphones safely guides Nigerians in the Niger delta along gas flares and oil spills to the nearest clean water facility, 380 kilometres away. Geert Ritsema considers this hilarious fake app, that went viral around the world, one of the high points of the campaign Worse Than Bad, which ran from May to early October 2012.
Another media moment is the expedition of a group of Dutch people with a camera team to Nigeria, for Dutch television show VARA’s Vroege Vogels which dedicated an episode Friday 5 October to the oil disaster in Nigeria (in Dutch only). The Dutch group included Milieudefensie member Herman Sier, who with his wife, former BZN singer/frontwoman Carola Smit, used to own Shell shares. The couple sold their shares out of dissatisfaction with Shell policies and that news made it on to showbiz programme Boulevard of RTL4. Moreover, Sier and Smit used their profits from the sale to buy a ticket for a Nigerian farmer to go to the Hague courts.
Shell court case
The demands being made – in the campaign as well as in the court case (but then on behalf of the victims) – are threefold.
Ritsema: ‘Shell must clean up oil pollution that has occurred through spills, replace the pipelines and improve safety measures, and finally, pay compensation to victims’.
He emphasises that the case, started in May 2008, is extremely complicated.
‘In an area the size of the Netherlands and Belgium together, oil pollution has ruined the lives of farmers and fishermen. A farmer from Goi, now taking his case to court, has not been able to cultivate anything since 2004 and has been looking for work as a day labourer. For each leakage we have had to supply the evidence that Shell responded and acted insufficiently.’
Nigerian victims are being supported by a report of the environmental office of the United Nations (UNEP) from 2011 that states that Shells’ cleaning methods are not effective and do not meet comply with legal regulations.
Shell admits guilt
Ritsema is convinced that the international strategy via campaigns such as Worse Than Bad in combination with court cases will be able to exert some influence on the direction of the supertanker that Shell is.
‘You can see it is reaping results. In 2011, for example, Shell admitted guilt in an English court case, and that was a first! What’s more, this is the first time in the European Union (outside of the UK) that a company, established in the EU, is being sued in its own country for abuses committed elsewhere (extraterritorially).’
Working together in alliance
The Fair Green and Global alliance (@fairgreenglobal) − comprising Milieudefensie and SOMO, as well as TNI, ActionAid NL, Clean Clothes Campaign and Both ENDS − are taking a stand for better international regulation for Corporate Social Responsibility. Ritsema: ‘This court case also serves as a case to spot the weak spot in the instruments we use to promote CSR. Access to legal recourse for everyone, is not yet well organised. And let’s get this straight, the fact that jurisdiction has been conferred on this Dutch court after years of legal battle is a major success in legalisation around CSR.
The court is not expected to reach a verdict before early 2013. Milieudefensie meanwhile remains active in Nigeria.
Ritsema: ‘The fight against the flaring of gas is not yet finished either, even though Shell has reduced the rates of gas flaring under pressure from demonstrations in 2011 by 20 percent.’