Royal Dutch/Shell: Human Rights in Nigeria.

1.Does Shell bear some responsibility for the problems in the Ogoni region of Nigeria?

It is obvious that Shell bears responsibility for the problems in the Ogoni region of Nigeria. From 1958, Royal Dutch/Shell struck oil on Ogoni lands. By estimates, the company has extracted some $30 billion worth of oil from the region since then. But Shell didn’t give any contribution to the local people and environment. The social and environmental costs of oil production which Shell deliberately ignored and didn’t attempt to take responsible for were really extensive:

-Large area of farmlands and fisheries had been occupied to explore oil. And because Ogoni is a powerless minority, they often overlooked when it comes to the allocation of jobs. This leads to the Ogoni region face with loss of land, as well as forced migration and unemployment.

-Numerous oil spills and leakage degrade of the soil. Without fertile soil, Ogoni people lose their mode of survival and are faced with the crisis of food shortages.

-Oil spills also contaminates the groundwater which can cause serious health problems for the inhabitants and destroy vegetation.

-Destruction of wildlife and damage to aquatic ecosystems.

-Focusing on exploiting the resources, while ignoring the local people’s health and education conditions.

All these are due to Shell’s poor social responsibility in Nigeria. Environmental regulations which are common practice in developed nations are often not followed in less developed countries. The system of oil production in Nigeria clearly is heavily skewed in favor of the Shell company and government elites rather than native populations. Hence, the indigenous inhabitants are actually further impoverished.

When Ogoni organized their protest, seeing a threat to the continuity of its oil operations, Shell informed the Nigerian government. Subsequently, a series of murky incidents occurred to quell unrests and hundreds of people lost their lives in the violence. Who is blamable? Although the direct murderer is the Nigerian government, the Shell Company should have considerable responsibility for that.

2.What steps might Shell have taken to nip some of the protests against it in the bud, or even preempt them?

Shell might have taken the following steps to deal with the protests against it:

1)Colluding with the Nigerian government. Shell and Nigerian government can benefit each other. Nigeria is still heavily dependent on the oil sector, from which generates 80% of the government income. Therefore, it is no doubt that the government might play a role as a Shell’s lackey. So once the Ogoni inhabitants organized to protest Shell, the government will take action to attack and repress the peaceful demonstrations of its own citizens against a foreign corporate entity.

2)Making use of the absence of related local laws and regulations to get away with charge. In Nigeria Shell can break the common practice which they implemented in developed nations. Due to the lack of adequate regulations on multinational companies and environmental protection, the Nigerian protestors didn’t have legal tools to protect their rights and punish the unethical behaviors. By contrary, the protestors violated the rules and the leaders of Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) were sentenced to execution.

3)Conniving the government suppress the protest by violent methods. To clear the way for Shell, the company may request the assistance of Nigeria’s notorious “kill-and-go” mobile police force to quell protests. Nigerian solders shot at the demonstrants, stormed Ogoni villages, and arrested the leaders in the MOSOP. But Shell without taking any helpful action, just stated its regret about the tragedy.

By the above steps, Shell can nip some of the protests against it in the bud, or even preempt them.

3.Could the company have done more to gain clemency for Ken Saro-Wiwa?

For its backbone position in Nigeria’s economy, Shell has considerable influence power to gain clemency for Ken Saro-Wiwa. But Shell has never used it to help the Ogoni people and Ken Saro-Wiwa, from whose homeland, Ogoni region, Shell has reaped enorous profits over the past 37 years. They chose to maintain their cosy relationship with the military dictatorship to secure oil profits rather than condemn, the brutal and unjust arrest and later sentencing of non-violent environmental campaigners.

Shell had ample opportunity to demonstrate concern over the period of Ken’s arrest and trial. Not only using “discreet diplomacy”, which Nigeria’s military leadership was in no mood to listen to, Shell should take a harder approach to give the government pressure to commute Ken’s sentence.

Shell should have done more, for Ken Saro-Wiwa was too innocent to commit execution. Ken Saro-Wiwa was seemed as an enemy of Shell, but his appeal is for justice. He spoke out against the environmental damage caused by Shell and sought compensation for his people’s lost farmland and fisheries. He campaigned for the most basic of human rights: the right for clean air, land and water. His only crime was his success in bringing his cause to international attention. Facing such a ‘criminal’, Shell should stand out and give a hand to him.

Such a conduct can relieve the conflicts between Ogoni people and Shell, moreover show a moral image and cooperative attitude, which may affect the company’s repute. Otherwise the company may gain a short-term benefit, but cast itself in the villain’s role, and lose the long-term benefit.

4.Was the response of Western governments to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa about right, too excessive, or too mild? What should have been the appropriate response?

Western governments took different reactions to protest the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. Such as withdrawal of ambassadors from Nigeria; Calling for a multilateral oil embargo, Plans for a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the executions; Protest actions by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and environmental groups such as Greepeace; Calls by the European Union to impose economic sanctions; Imposition of a ban on arms sales to Nigeria by a number of countries and etc.

These responses seem to be strong and forceful, but practically most of them would not be carried out. No country halted purchases of Nigerian oil or sales of oil service equipment to Nigeria. The U.S., which imports 40 percent of Nigeria’s daily output of 2million barrels, was silent on the question of an oil embargo. Similarly, no Western country indicated they would impose an embargo on sales to, or purchase from, the Nigerian oil industry.

Therefore Nigeria government just received several orally criticisms, but not real punishment. And Shell Company would go ahead with its plans for a liquefied natural gas operation in Nigeria. Thus we can get the conclusion that the response of Western governments to the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa was mild.

From western countries’ points of view, such responses exhibit their protest towards this issue, as well as do no harm for their own benefit. So maybe these mild responses are most appropriate.

5.In the wake of Saro-Wiwa’s execution, was Shell correct to push ahead with the liquefied natural gas project in Nigeria?

We can not simply justify whether Shell is correct or not to push ahead with the liquefied natural gas project in Nigeria. The project itself may not be wrong, it can provide thousands of job opportunities and ten of thousands benefiting in the local economy. The important thing is whether Shell can do the project as well as fulfill its social responsibility or not.

If after the event of Saro-Wiwa’s execution, Shell could look at what their own operations were and take on the its responsible to compensate the local people, to clean up the environmental mess and pay more attention on environment protection, use the same standards, which they implement in developed countries, in Nigeria. Then the push ahead with the liquefied natural gas project in Nigeria may have some positive influence on the society. Otherwise, what the company may benefit the society can not offset what they may destroy.

6.Do you think it is possible for a company such as Shell to reform itself from within, or would it have been better for Shell to establish an external body to monitor its human rights and environmental policies?

I think it is possible for Shell to reform itself from within. Though the problem of Nigeria, Shell Company emerges the double standards that are used in the oil industry in Nigeria compared to what is used elsewhere. Lack of social responsibility, especially in less developed countries is a crucial issue that should be focus on.

Mentioned in the case, the head of Shell had been changed. Under the new leadership, Shell subsequently indicated the company would express support for fundamental human rights in line with the legitimate role of business and to give proper regard to health, safety, and the environment development. The company also embraced the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pledged to set up socially responsible management system, and promised to development training procedures to help managements deal with human rights dilemmas.

I think the internal factors are decisive to solve Nigeria problem. So if the reform can force the managements and employees become active in human rights and environment campaigns, it is must be more effective than only establishing an external body to monitor the company.

External monitor, however, is also necessary. I don’t believe that Shell can complete the reform by itself. There should be an external body to monitor the human rights and environment policies. The monitor should be more like an audit and periodically perform reviews on the company.

7. Decades after Shell pulled its people out of the Ogoni region, they have yet to return despite the region’s rich oil reserves. Some have suggested that it serves the political interests of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People to have Shell cast in the villain’s role. Do you think this is true? Is there anything Shell can do about this? Who suffers most from Shell’s continued absence in the Ogoni region?

It may be true. But I think if Shell can really give help and efforts to this issue, how can the MOSOP do counterwork only in order to serve their political interests? I think the company can not send its workers back into the region to clean up the environmental mess, is because they know the place is unsafe and it is impossible to recover the environment as before. It is difficult to turn their promise come true.

The leader of MOSOP stated that Shell was excellent at public relations but it was terrible at turning words into reality. Only if turn to action, Shell can improve this is not true.

It is no doubt that the local people who suffers most from Shell’s continued absence in the Ogoni region.