The United Kingdom, (UK) Supreme Court has ruled that polluted Nigerian communities can sue oil giant Shell in English courts.
The decision is a victory for the communities after a five yr-long battle and also overturns a Court of Appeal ruling.
The Niger Delta communities, which comprises of more than 40,000 people, say decades of pollution have severely impacted their lives, health and local environment.
Shell is responsible for about 50% of the delta’s oil production. It had argued that it was only a holding company for a firm that should be judged under Nigerian law.
The Supreme Court, the UK’s final appeal court for civil cases, ruled that the cases brought by the Bille community and the Ogale people of Ogoniland against Royal Dutch Shell were arguable and could proceed in the English courts.
Royal Dutch Shell did not dispute that pollution had been caused, but argued it could not be held legally responsible for its Nigerian subsidiary.
Last year, the Court of Appeal agreed with the company, but the Supreme Court said today that that decision was flawed.
The communities, represented by law firm Leigh Day, argued Shell owed a common law duty of care to individuals who had suffered serious harm as a result of the systemic health, safety and environmental failings of one of its overseas subsidiaries.
This is the latest case to test whether multinational companies can be held accountable for the acts of overseas subsidiaries.
Amnesty International has welcomed the ruling. However, Shell said the ruling was “a disappointing decision”.