Royal Dutch Shell faces heavy criticism that the UK-listed oil giant has turned its back on the victims of human rights and environmental abuse caused by the company, despite United Nations pressure for urgent remedial measures.
The accusations came from the anti-poverty charity War on Want and its Nigerian partner Social Action, only days after Shell announced the firm’s second-quarter profits had more than doubled from £1.2 billion to £2.9 billion.
It also coincided with growing international pressure and protests in Nigerian on the third anniversary of a damning report from the UN Environment Programme about Shell’s disastrous impact on indigenous Ogoni in southeast Nigeria.
The charity launched its attack before thousands of Nigerians prepared to protest today (4 August), demanding that Shell assumes responsibility for cleaning up a toxic legacy of oil pollution in Ogoniland.
According to War on Want, the company has brought catastrophe to the indigenous Ogoni, in a region where estimates suggest over 70 per cent of people depend on the natural environment for their livelihood.
Since the 1950s, when Shell arrived in Ogoniland to extract oil, its people have suffered a half century of spills.
Faced with mass resistance by the Ogoni people, 1993 saw the company abandon oil extraction in their territory and it has never been allowed to resume. However, its pipes cross Ogoni territory and have continued to spew oil into the environment.
Wells from which the Ogoni take drinking water contain levels of carcinogenic toxins up to 900 times more than World Health Organisation guidelines.
Farming is increasingly futile, amid oil contamination that reaches five metres below the land surface and non-governmental organisations point to rising incidence of cancer and infant deformity, as well as lung and skin conditions.
The UNEP estimated the cleanup would take up to 30 years and said that Shell should put up $1 billion to get the work started. But three years later, Shell has yet to act.
Social Action spokesperson and Ogoni activist Celestine Akpobari said: “Shell has the power to do anything it wants in Nigeria, including having our people killed as it has done in the past. But are we expected to believe that it does not have the power to arrange for the cleanup of its own mess? These are double standards and lies. How many more years will the Ogoni people have to wait for something to be done about their toxic environment?”
Patrick Kane, senior programmes officer at War on Want, said: “Imagine the area you live in sullied by oil pollution, the air you breathe thick with fumes, water you drink poisoned, the ground beneath your feet saturated, with contamination reaching five metres below the surface, your crops wither and die, and disease and infant deformity increasing in your community. This is the grim plight of the Ogoni people.
“Shell has the political and economic power, as well as the responsibility, to ensure the cleanup takes place. It must act without further delay and make the funds available for the work. Shell has already brought enough suffering to the Ogoni people. The company must stop its stalling and act now for the sake of future Ogoni generations."