Big Oil companies have been notorious for trends of destruction and devastation for decades. Children have been left to bathe in water reeking of hazardous chemicals, animals have had their homes destroyed and disease runs rampant as factories continue to taint the air that people breathe.
Most would agree that these acts are criminal to say the least, but where is the line drawn? When is enough enough? The lasting effects of oil pollution seem to have finally become all too much for natives of Ogoniland, the name of the region surrounding the Niger Delta. In addition to admittedly being involved in “the world’s most wide-ranging and long-term oil clean-up,” Shell has also being accused of corruption and human rights abuse.
Shell has inhabited Ogoniland for more than 50 years. Countless oil spills have left the area heavily contaminated and unsanitary, leaving behind trails of disease and illness. The drinking water has been found to contain high concentrations of benzene, as well as other harmful chemicals. The soil contamination is more than five meters deep in some areas, leaving the soil infertile.
The total damage covers 1,000 sq kilometers of Ogoniland, and will cost $1 billion to fix over a 30 year time span. “The oil industry has been a key sector of the Nigerian economy for over 50 years but many Nigerians have paid a high price,” said Achim Steiner, a UN under-secretary general. Shell has never denied their role in polluting this once lush and fruitful land, however, evidence of abuse, torture and murder of the inhabitants of Ogoniland has hit the surface, bringing Shell’s alleged “compliance” into question.
Recently released confidential documents allude to a “reign of terror” of sorts in Ogoniland during the 1990s, funded by Shell. Many people, fed up with the numerous oil spills Shell claimed were due to “sabotage,” decided that indeed, enough was enough. During this time, people banded together to organize peaceful protests, contesting the fatal trend of pollution in their community. But Shell seemed to have a no-tolerance policy when it came to defacing their company name.
In response to this outbreak of social unrest, the Nigerian military reportedly tortured and killed thousands of people in attempts to silence those opposed to the company’s presence in Ogoniland. Citizens of Ogoniland claim that the company relied on the Nigerian military to do their dirty work, dedicating funds towards these militant efforts and even giving the soldiers spending money, free food and free transportation.
Shell has denied all accusations of human rights abuse, only admitting to paying the military once, “as a show of gratitude and motivation for a sustained favourable disposition in future assignments.” However, Shell may have bit off more than they can chew. Even though Shell paid $15.5 million in 2009 to the families of eight murdered Ogoni tribe leaders in a settlement, natives of Ogoniland do not feel justice has been served and are pursuing a criminal trial.
The U.S. Supreme Court will use the case of the Ogoni people and Shell in order to determine whether corporations will be held liable in U.S. courts for human rights abuse and torture overseas. The court will also hear a second case that will determine whether the Torture Victims Protection Act of 1992 can be used against organizations or solely individuals. If the courts vote in favor of people, corporations will be subject to civil suits for torture and killings of people all around the world.
Shell isn’t the only major corporation under review. Chiquita Brands International is in trouble for its relationship with paramilitary groups in Colombia, Exxon for abuses in Indonesia, Chevron for its abuses in Nigeria, and several other companies for their role in apartheid in South Africa. The cases are set to be heard early next year.
The thoughtless actions of one corporation has left thousands of people living in less than sanitary conditions; subjected to torture and murder because of it. You can help the Nigerians of Ogoniland hold Shell accountable for their actions by signing this petition.
Photo Credit: MShep2