Amnesty International and FoE allege that Royal Dutch Shell has breached the OECD Guidelines by making false, misleading and incomplete statements about incidents of sabotage to its operations and the sources of pollution in the Niger Delta.
Specifically, the complainants are concerned by Shells repeated claims about the high proportion of oil spills in the Niger Delta that are due to sabotage committed by criminal gangs. According to the complainants, the company provides misleading information and omits mentioning relevant facts about the causes of oil spills. Additionally, they claim that Shell bases its communications on biased and unverified information, thus failing to provide reliable and relevant information to external stakeholders.
The complainants are concerned that Shells use of inaccurate and misleading figures on sabotage has serious negative consequences for the communities of the Niger Delta. For example, when spills are classified as the result of sabotage, Shell has no liability or responsibility to pay compensation for damage done to people or their livelihoods. In addition, the complainants claim that Shell uses these figures to deflect criticism of its own environmental and human rights impact in the Niger Delta, misleading key stakeholders including consumers and investors.
Relevant OECD Guidelines
- Version 2000 Chapter III
- Version 2000 Chapter III Paragraph III.1
- Version 2000 Chapter III Paragraph III.2
- Version 2000 Chapter III Paragraph III.4 Subparagraph III.4.E
- Version 2000 Chapter V
- Version 2000 Chapter V Paragraph V.2
- Version 2000 Chapter V Paragraph V.3
- Version 2000 Chapter VII
- Version 2000 Chapter VII Paragraph VII.4
Based on its initial assessment of the complaint, the Dutch NCP accepted the case in February 2011. Shell headquarters initially tried to distance itself from the Nigerian operations and referred the NCP to the local subsidiary. However, the NCP insisted that the parent company must take responsibility and exert its influence over subsidiaries to ensure that they are abiding by the Guidelines. Shell headquarters eventually agreed to take part in the mediation. In total, two joint mediated meetings and several bilateral meetings were held. Under pressure from Shell, Milieudefensie agreed to step back from the mediation to facilitate the process.
One of the main stumbling blocks in the negotiations was Shells demand that the complainants issue guarantees that they would not publicly disclose information related to the pre-2011 oil spills that were to be discussed. The complainants responded that though they did not have any plans to campaign on the cases and that they were committed to the NCPs confidentiality procedure, they could not guarantee that they would not communicate with the Nigerian communities about the cause of the oil spills. This impasse proved insurmountable for the dialogue.
Throughout the process, the complainants repeatedly expressed serious concern that the Dutch NCP allowed Shell to dictate the parameters for the dialogue, which effectively left unaddressed all past harm done to the people of the Niger Delta as a result of Shells flawed statements.
Following the unsuccessful mediation attempt, the Dutch NCP issued a final statement in June 2013 finding that Shells statements on the oil spills were based on flawed investigations and disputed evidence. The NCP furthermore found that Shells general communication with stakeholders about the percentage of oil spills caused by sabotage was flawed. However, the NCP did not explicitly conclude that Shells failures constituted a breach of the Guidelines, nor did the NCP evaluate what the impact of Shells flawed statements on the local communities had been.