A release from Amnesty International prompted me to do some research into what sounded like a case of Shell Oil and predatory capitalism in Nigeria. This ties into our discussion of OWS but suggests that there are actual reasons that the OWS movement has sympathies around the world, and that the issue is not purely an American issue.
A new 75-page report claims that Royal Dutch Shell, the biggest operator in Nigeria's oil industry, fuelled human rights abuses by paying huge contracts to armed militants. The Counting the Cost report was compiled by a coalition of nongovernmental organisations and published in the UK Guardian newspaper.
Human rights are classified as Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural. They are basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to, regardless of nationality, sex, age, race, religion or sex. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights recognizes a number of social, economic and cultural rights, such as the right to education, right to housing, right to adequate standard of living and right to health.
Shell has been frequently identified as being hand-in-gloves with successive Nigerian governments over allegations of human rights abuses of Nigerians in area of operation, principally in the Niger Delta region. Some of these abuses are linked to the environmental degradation that results from oil exploration. But they also extend to areas bordering on corporate responsibility. The Counting the Cost report provided details of allegations of how the oil giant fuelled conflict by making routine payments to armed groups in the Niger Delta. A United Nations report earlier this year was critical of the widespread pollution the oil exploration causes and blamed Shell for not clearing up the sludge in the Niger Delta. Furthermore Shell recently admitted liability for oil spills in the Ogoni area and agreed to pay some compensation in at least one particular respect. Shell's obligations in these matters are very clear. The company must clean up the environment, improve its operations, and commit to ending the practice of gas flaring, which under the law is illegal but is hardly enforced due to bureaucracy and official corruption.
A more disturbing aspect of the report is light it shed on the role that Nigerians have played in the entire mess. Shell's operations obviously are not a bazaar; they are anchored on the profit motive. The company is rarely accused of violating human rights in Western nations where it also does business. This underscores the sad reality that some, if not all, multinational companies routinely violate human rights only in countries where the government regularly and consistently fails to assert its oversight functions. Counting the Cost asserts that Shell relies on the Nigerian government forces to perpetrate systematic human rights abuses by attacking, torturing, and on occasions killing Nigerians living in the Niger Delta area.
Shell has vigorously denied the allegations but acknowledged that "sometimes its actions caused tensions between communities in Nigeria". According to Shell, "In view of the high rate of criminal violence in the Niger Delta, the Federal government as a majority owner of the oil facilities deploy government security forces to protect people and assets." As far as the company is concerned, any allegation that it controls the activities of security forces is completely untrue. The whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks recently released US embassy cables that portrayed some of Shell's operational tactics. The cables reveal that top Shell executives "know everything" about key decisions in government. They claimed that Shell inserted staff into all the key ministries of the Nigerian government, giving the company unfettered access to key policy details and insight into decisions before they are even taken.