A Dutch parliamentary commission is to discuss later on Thursday the government’s response to the recent United Nations report on oil spills in the Niger Delta. Following extensive research in Nigeria’s oil rich region, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) has called on Shell and the Nigerian government to take urgent measures to clean up and rehabilitate the environment that has been polluted by years of oil spills in the Ogoni area.
In a letter to parliament, Dutch vice-premier and minister for economic affairs Maxime Verhagen (CDA, Christian democrat) called the report “alarming” and wrote that governments hold the primary responsibility for protecting human rights and the environment. According to him, the Dutch government cannot force companies to behave as good corporate citizens abroad.
A spokesman for his party, Ad Koppejan, told RNW that he would call on the Dutch government to raise the issue of security with its Nigerian counterpart, and advise how to prevent the sabotage of pipelines which Shell says causes the majority of oil spills. Both he and socialist party MP Sharon Gesthuizen who visited the Delta last year, would like to see a more concerted effort at the European level. The socialists (opposition) would like to see the Dutch government put pressure on Shell to apply the report’s recommendations and consider taking sanctions against Shell if it does not comply. The socialists intend to propose offering legal aid to foreigners who want to sue mother companies in their home countries.
Geert Ritsema, of the Dutch environmental organisation Milieudefensie, part of the Friends of the Earth network, says that increased international attention, including three court cases against Shell, the UNEP report and one by Amnesty International, have prompted Shell to act “more responsibly” in order to avoid damaging its corporate image. He feels that because the Dutch government receives large amounts of tax money from Shell, it should hold the multinational accountable for environmental damage caused in other countries. Mr. Ritsema feels Shell applies double standards: the highest at home, and lower standards in countries like Nigeria where the governments are weak in implementing regulations.
Tony Attah, Vice-President of Shell Petroleum Development Cooperation (SPDC), told RNW that further pressure should not be put on Shell. "I’m ready to go in (and clean up the spills, red), so I don’t know what kind of additional pressure you want to put on me. I think where the pressure should be will be on the government really and also on getting people to become reasonable and to say: “we want our land cleaned up”.”
A local chief in Ogoni told RNW that the only hope for his village was the international community. “Do you think that Shell and the Nigerian government will ever implement the UNEP report? “ he asked. Another chief had a message to the Dutch government: “they should put pressure both on Shell and on the Nigerian government. They are partners in crime. Shell is the Nigerian government and the Nigerian government is Shell. They should clean up all the communities to an international standard, through proper consultations with the communities.”
Nigerian environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey is a winner of the alternative Nobel prize and chairman of Environmental Rights Action. This non-governmental organisation is Friends of the Earth’s partner in Nigeria. Bassey’s recommendation: “the Dutch government should say to Shell “we can’t wait anymore, clean up your mess. We don’t want blood money.”
Nigeria is a “huge reputational risk” for Shell, says Ritsema, “and we will continue to expose their mistakes for as long as it takes for them to clean up and pay up. They should compensate the people for the losses they have suffered." Ritsema is hopeful that change will come in the Delta: “Shell is like a tanker, it is difficult to change its direction. But once it’s changed its course, I’m sure it will continue in the same direction. For I believe that people in Africa should have the same rights we have in northern countries."