Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell Plc will defend its environmental record in the Niger Delta in a lawsuit that may set a precedent for damage claims related to the activities of international companies.
The hearing, which will be held on Thursday, follows a landmark ruling by the Dutch judiciary in 2009, when it declared itself competent to try the case despite protests from Shell that its Nigerian subsidiary was solely legally responsible for any damage.
The case, filed in a local court in The Hague, where Shell has its joint global headquarters, seeks to make Shell and other corporations responsible for pollution resulting from three oil spills in 2004, 2005 and 2007 in Africa’s top energy producer.
Plaintiffs are four Nigerians and environmental group Friends of the Earth.
The four, who are fishermen and farmers, are seeking unspecified compensation and argue they can no longer feed their families because the area has been polluted with oil from Shell’s pipelines and production facilities.
Shell says the pollution was caused by oil thieves and that it has played its part in cleaning up.
“The real tragedy of the Niger Delta is the widespread and continual criminal activity, including sabotage, theft and illegal refining, that causes the vast majority of oil spills,” the group said in a statement.
Friends of the Earth said it hopes the case – set to last a day during which attorneys for both sides will present arguments before the judges retire to give their verdicts next year – will set a precedent and lead to “an end to the corporate crimes committed by oil giants like Shell in Nigeria and around the world”.
Al Jazeera’s Yvonne Ndege, reporting from Abuja, said the court proceedings are taking place in the Hague because the plaintiffs have “failed to get their case heard within the Nigerian judicial system”.