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Shell under fire for alleged environmental, human rights violations

Latika Bourke reported this story on Friday, January 28, 2011 12:50:00

TANYA NOLAN: Dutch oil company Shell has been grilled over its operations in Africa’s Niger Delta amid claims of pollution and abuses.

Shell’s executives have been called before a parliamentary inquiry in the Hague where they’ve been asked about oil spills and gas flaring causing atmospheric pollution.

But the company’s been quick to blame Nigerian militants for much of the environmental destruction in the region.

Latika Bourke reports.

LATIKA BOURKE: Oil spills are commonplace in the Niger Delta. The Nigerian environment minister says 3,000 were recorded in the last four years.

John Ghazvinian is the author of Untapped -The Scramble for Africa’s Oil.

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: In the last 50 years over all of the Nigerian oil industry roughly the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez oil spill has been spilt every year.

LATIKA BOURKE: Statistics such as those prompted a parliamentary inquiry into Shell in the Netherlands where the company’s headquarters are based.

But Audrey Gaughran from Amnesty International says the hearing hasn’t been overly fruitful.

AUDREY GAUGHRAN: I would have to say that while we think the hearing itself and the initiative to hold the hearing was an excellent initiative of the Dutch parliament, that it was disappointing in terms of Shell’s participation.

They spoke in very general terms. They didn’t say very much. And they didn’t answer the specifics of the allegations that have been brought against them in terms of the operations in the Niger Delta.

LATIKA BOURKE: What are those allegations?

AUDREY GAUGHRAN: The allegations and they’ve been going on for many years are about the environmental impact of Shell in the Niger Delta.

Amnesty International and various other groups have documented oil related pollution that are due to Shell’s operations in the Niger Delta.

And the pollution has a really serious impact on the right to food, the right to water and the right to livelihood. And of course there are serious concerns about the right to health.

LATIKA BOURKE: But president of Shell Peter De Wit told Dutch lawmakers his company does a lot of good.

PETER DE WIT: We consider that Shell is doing a good job in West Africa and often under difficult circumstances, particularly in Nigeria.

We do provide thousands of well paid jobs which have their multiplier effects particularly in the delta.

And we launched numerous community projects in the region, some of which are highly successful.

LATIKA BOURKE: Ian Craig is Shell’s director for sub-Saharan Africa and says up to the 70 per cent of the oil spills aren’t the company’s fault. He blames sabotage.

Author John Ghazvinian says that’s partially true.

JOHN GHAZVINIAN: Oil spills in the Niger Delta are caused by a combination of either carelessness or negligence of some sort on the part of the oil companies, poor safety standards, poor government oversight, etc.

And yes sabotage is certainly responsible for a great deal of it.

LATIKA BOURKE: Shell is refusing to pay Nigerians compensation and says reparations would simply give terrorists an incentive to carry out militant attacks.

Audrey Gaughran says it’s proof corporate multinationals won’t do the right thing if they know they can get away with it.

AUDREY GAUGHRAN: The contrast that Amnesty has made has been with for example the Gulf of Mexico and BP. And the government of the United States stepped in after the disaster had occurred and required the company to do certain things, insisted on a compensation fund and insisted on investigations, demanded transparency.

And I would ask the question, does anyone think that BP would have done all of those things without the government of the United States requiring them to? I think everybody would agree the answer is no, they wouldn’t.

Companies don’t do it voluntarily. They have to be required by governments to do it. And that doesn’t happen in the case of the Niger Delta.

TANYA NOLAN: That’s Audrey Gaughran from Amnesty International ending that report from Latika Bourke.

* �2010 ABC


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