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Huge multi-national corporations are notorious for acting irresponsibly, especially if their bad behavior ensures higher profits. From damaging the environment to the support of oppressive regimes in other countries, the reprehensible behavior of multi-nationals in countries where the rule of law is not completely enforced has been well documented. However, a recent settlement between Shell Oil and a group of Nigerian families (to avoid appearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan) will, hopefully, started a trend that will allow the rule of law in the U.S. to keep multinationals in line abroad.

In the mid 1990s, individuals connected with Shell Oil were accused of the jailing, torturing, and killing of peaceful activists in Nigeria who had protested against the corporations’ destruction to the environment. The activists had also called for more of Nigerian oil wealth to be distributed to the poor. Such violations of human rights would have gone unnoticed if not for a 1789 statute, the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows non-U.S. citizens to bring cases to U.S. courts for human rights violations occurring overseas. The Shell Oil case was in the process of being brought before a U.S. court, under this statute, before a settlement was reached.

This situation is unique, not only in its innovative use of the American justice system, but also in the way in which litigation was used to defend the rights of the defenseless, abroad. As all of us involved in the legal system know, improved safety standards and corporate/individual accountability are both celebrated effects of necessary and proper litigation here in America. However, using litigation to protect the human rights of those that have been mistreated by foreign corporations overseas is both novel and noble. Lawsuit Financial hopes, indeed, all of us can only hope, that this settlement provides an opportunity to begin building a solid legal, international human rights and justice foundation. We shall see….


  1. Gravatar for Julius N'Sama

    This is not a Human Rights Triumph, when an associate entity (Shell) pays a fine in order not to upset the culpable entity (Nigerian government). Yes, there are victims and they should be compensated. However, Shell Global neither owns the Shell entity in Nigeria, nor hired the security forces who perpetrated this violent act. The primary owner of Shell Nigeria is NNPC, which is 100%-owned by the Nigerian government. Shell Global is in absolutely no position to push blame toward NNPC, so was forced to pay the fine. The Nigerian government would not hesitate replace Shell with Gazprom, PDVSA or another entity. Is Shell responsible? Partially, since they choose to do business here and have a 30% stake in the entity involved in the killings. But the true criminals are the Nigerian government and NNPC, who have not had a hint of blame passed there way. Don't believe me? Come here and spend some time in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, etc. Look at the wealth. Look at the governance. Decide for yourself who's rich, powerful and uncaring: AFTER YOU'VE LIVED HERE. Don't judge from your perch abroad. The payment by Shell only increases the Nigerian government's belief that they answer to no one.

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