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The SpOILed Industry. Environmental Justice strategies in the world of oil.

Chevron in Ecuador and Shell in Nigeria: Transnational Corporations, particularly those in the oil sector, operate around the world and are responsible for some of the most serious environmental damages, but yet they seem to be accountable to no one. Recent forays into shale gas and deepwater exploration using cutting edge technologies mean the risks to nature and communities are even greater.
This means the response to their attempts to evade justice must be equally cutting edge and globally coordinated. The aim of the EJOLT network[1] that just published “Digging deep Corporate Liability. Environmental Justice strategies in the world of oil” is to map such environmental injustices, analyse them and propose solutions—such as these policy recommendations.

With a progressive decline in petroleum reserves, oil companies are responding to the increasing global demand with technological advancement and expansion of the oil frontier to the most remote and difficult to reach areas, including seasArctic regions, and tropical forests. These new extraction sites often provide low-quality oil with greater environmental risks. When local communities stand up to defend their rights, they often experience environmental racism, intimidation and criminalization or persecution.
“Digging deep Corporate Liability. Environmental Justice strategies in the world of oil” gathers first-hand information on experiences that support and promote an advanced legal framework to tackle environmental injustice related to the oil industry. “This ground breaking study links environmental crime to ecocide, which requires policy responses that cover both corporate and individual liabilities and sanctions in the event of any breach”, according to Godwin Ojo, coordinator of Environmental Rights Action. It covers lawsuits against:

  • Chevron-Texaco in Ecuador, was required to pay over 19 billion USD for restoration, compensation and mitigation;
  • Shell in the Netherlands, brought by Nigerian citizens for Shell’s liabilities related to its subsidiary activities in Nigeria;
  • Enichem and Montedison in Italy, whereby the CEOs were condemned for intentionally exposing workers to health and death risks.

While resistance to the oil industry is everywhere, justice remains a remote prospect for the majority who are impacted. Through our case studies, we illustrate potential next steps for organised communities. The report shows a clear need to further develop the concepts of environmental crime and theprecautionary principle. There is an urgent need for the creation of legal precedents as well as cultural changes in societal values if environmental justice is to be achieved.
These prospects are not just daydreams. In April 2013, the European Commission published a legislative proposal, which would require large companies to include a non-financial statement within their annual reports. This statement would have to cover environmental, social human rights, anti-corruption, bribery, and diversity matters. Although this is a welcome step, even more promising is a European Citizen Initiative that aims to make ecocide the 5th crime against humanity, which would open the door for corporate accountability established through an International Environmental Crimes Court.
Until these proposals materialise, other options for justice continue to open. For instance, local fishermen from Nigeria took action and successfully dragged Shell before the court in the Hague. It was the first time Dutch civil courts ruled against a multinational for damages suffered abroad. “Digging deep Corporate Liability. Environmental Justice strategies in the world of oil” discusses the implications of this case’s success in overcoming the complicated procedures on trans-boundary cases . Setting such precedents could open the floodgates for more court cases that will bring companies to task for environmental injustices perpetrated by them anywhere in the world, in their home countries. The impunity must end.

For more information, please contact
Lucie Greyl, report author, Centro Documentazione Conflitti Ambientali (Italy)
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Godwin Ojo, report author, Environmental Rights Action (Nigeria)
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Professor Joan Martinez Alier, EJOLT coordinator, University of Barcelona
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[1] EJOLT stands for Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade – an EU funded global coalition of universities and grassroots activists in 18 countries


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