Over 300,000 people speak out against Shell’s pollution in the Niger Delta

Marleen van Ruijven, Senior Policy Officer, Amnesty International Netherlands, and Vijay Rajendran, Chair of the Amnesty International Amsterdam Student Group.

On 4 July, we visited the headquarters of Shell in The Hague together with three other student activists (Hans-Georg Eilenberger, Lisanne Peelen and Iris ten Teije) to present the company with a global petition signed by 309,190 people. The signatures, collected by Amnesty International and our partners, came from more than 20 countries across five continents.

Our delivery of the global petition followed a hand over of signatures to Shell’s offices in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on 25 June by our partner NGO the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD), representing civil society groups and oil-affected communities in Nigeria.

The petition sent a loud message to Shell that it must act now to address the ongoing impacts of oil pollution on economic, social and cultural rights in the Niger Delta.

Shell refused to accept the petition in public or to allow Amnesty International to take any photographs of the handover of the petition. This is a worrying development, suggesting Shell has become even more unwilling to engage with civil society groups or publically acknowledge the concerns of activists. In 2009 the company had accepted our petition in pubic. We were told that the change this time was because Amnesty International had been too critical of Shell!

The petition was addressed to Shell CEO Peter Voser, but as he was not willing to accept it in person, we presented the signatures to Dick Benschop, the Director of Shell Netherlands and two other Shell representatives. Mr Benschop told us he will ensure that Mr Voser receives the petition.

The petition calls on Shell to:

  • Contribute the full $1 billion identified by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the start-up amount needed to establish an independent fund to clean up pollution in Ogoniland.
  • Carry out a comprehensive clean-up of oil pollution and environmental damage, in genuine consultation with local communities.
  • Support the need for further assessment of oil pollution across the wider oil-producing Niger Delta region.
  • Pay fair and adequate compensation to all affected communities.

We also handed Shell the joint statement signed by Amnesty International and the Nigerian civil society organisations we work with on the campaign, which expresses our concerns and recommendations in more detail. The statement was issued at the start of a protest march in Port Harcourt on 28 April, which marked the end of a global week of action.

Shell responded by saying that UNEP’s environmental assessment of Ogoniland is the catalyst to build alliances in the Niger Delta, but it is difficult when the Nigerian government has still not reacted to UNEP’s August 2011 report. Once there is a plan of action, Shell said it is willing to pay its fair share towards the clean up fund for Ogoniland (but did not commit to the full $1 billion we asked for in the petition).

Shell’s response was typically evasive. Although the Nigerian Government does have significant responsibility for implementing UNEP’s recommendations, and has failed to hold oil companies to account, Shell has consistently failed to properly address oil pollution in the Niger Delta. Meanwhile, many of Shell’s oil spills, such as the major 2008 spills in Bodo, have never been adequately cleaned up, undermining the rights of local communities.

One of the Shell representatives advised us to remain open to objectivity. We responded that we know what we are talking about – and that actually it is Shell that is avoiding the facts.