Britain’s supreme court will on Tuesday hear Nigerian farmers and fishermen appeal to pursue claims against oil major Shell (RDSa.L) over spills in the Niger Delta.
The appeal re-opens the possibility for British multinationals to be held liable at home for their subsidiaries’ actions abroad. It comes after a setback in 2018 when a London court ruled that the claim could not be pursued in England.
The Ogale and Bille communities allege that Shell’s oil operations have polluted their land and waters. They are seeking justice through British courts because cases heard in Nigeria can take decades to resolve, said Leigh Day, the law firm representing the farmers and fishermen.
The main question for the courts is whether they have jurisdiction over claims against Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company, which is jointly operated with the Nigerian government.
Shell’s subsidiary has said “claims by Nigerian communities against a Nigerian company about events in Nigeria should be heard in Nigeria and not the UK”.
The Nigerian unit says the spills are chiefly due to oil theft, sabotage and illegal refining. The communities maintain they cannot seek redress locally.