'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Cost of Doing Business 

From The Guardian:

The oil giant Shell has agreed to pay $15.5m (£9.7m) in settlement of a legal action in which it was accused of having collaborated in the execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders of the Ogoni tribe of southern Nigeria.

The settlement is one of the largest payouts agreed by a multinational corporation charged with human rights violations. Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary SPDC have not conceded to or admitted any of the allegations, pleading innocent to all the civil charges.

But the scale of the payment is being seen by experts in human rights law as a step towards international businesses being made accountable for their environmental and social actions.

In the past, it has been notoriously difficult to bring and sustain legal actions involving powerful corporations.

The settlement follows three weeks of intensive negotiation between the plaintiffs, who largely consisted of relatives of the executed Ogoni nine, and Shell. "We spent a lot of time trying to put together something that would be acceptable to both sides, and our people are very pleased with the result," said Anthony DiCaprio, the lead lawyer for the Ogoni side working with the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights.

5 million dollars will go towards a trust fund to support educational and community initiatives in the Niger delta. It will be interesting to see how it is implemented, because there is a possibility that the fund will become yet another form of social control.

Let's hope that it doesn't happen. Here is what the Center's press release says about it:

One of the aspects of the settlement is to establish The Kiisi Trust. “Kiisi” means “progress” in the Ogoni languages. The Trust will fund education, health, community development and other benefits for the Ogoni people and their communities, including educational endowments, skills development, women’s programs, agricultural development, small enterprise support, and adult literacy.

The Trust Deed was made by the Estate of Ken Saro-Wiwa, Owens Wiwa, the Estate of John Kpuinen, Karalolo Kogbara, Michael Tema Vizor, the Estate of Saturday Doobee, the Estate of Felix Nuate, the Estate of Daniel Gbokoo, the Children of Barinem and Peace Kiobel, and the Estate of Uebari N-nah. This trust will facilitate community participation in decisions related to the use and enjoyment of the Trust Fund, and emphasizes the importance of transparency in its operations.

According to the Center, the settlement is only the beginning of a process of reconciliation:

The Ogoni people have many outstanding issues with Shell, and it is Shell’s responsibility to resolve those issues with the Ogoni people themselves. The Plaintiffs do not speak for the Ogoni people, nor have they attempted to resolve those issues.

The Center has won a great victory within the constraints of the Anglo American legal system. But the amount of the settlement is, sadly, merely the cost of doing business for a transnational energy company like Shell. For example, would it induce Shell to act differently in the future? There is good reason to doubt it. So, in this respect, the settlement is the beginning of a process, not the end of one, as recognized by the Center.

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