The People of Nigeria versus Shell Essay
We are living in the age of “awarenesses”. This is so because more and more often we hear such collocations as “environmental awareness”, “security awareness”, “disability awareness”, “breast cancer awareness”, “citizenship awareness” and many more others. Today in order for individuals as well as companies to be recognized they have to show the possession of the decent level of awareness. It has always been acknowledged that corporations, though being purely selfish, have to bear particular responsibilities. However, this notion became so widely spread only in the last eight to ten years.
The effect of such recognition is obvious, a good example of that is that almost each corporation today has an environmental policy. Such policy ensures that the corporation undertakes not to perform any harmful actions towards environment. However, if the corporations are so politically correct and aware, why do we continue to be hearing about the harmful effects of many corporations on the people?
This essay debates the moral and ethical obligations of companies in our modern society. The paper shows that companies do make decisions that appear to be based on the assumption that profit is so important that injury to (and even death of) innocent human beings is an acceptable cost to be paid. This is the question I would like to deal with in my paper. As a base of this paper I will take the unethical behavior of the Dutch oil magnate – the Shell Corporation towards the people of Nigeria. I will discuss this topic in detail as well as I will provide a deep insight into the situation from various points of view. At the end of the paper I will provide the reader with summarization of the case and conclusions that can be derived from it.
To begin with I would like to provide the reader with some brief information about the Shell Oil Company. Shell Oil Company is the United States-based company owned primarily by Royal Dutch Shell that is a multinational oil company of Anglo Dutch origins. The latter company is, in fact, one of the largest oil companies in the world. The head office of the company is situated in the United States of America, particularly in Houston, Texas. There are approximately twenty-two thousand employees working for the U.S. headquarters. Shell Oil Company, including its consolidated companies and its share in equity companies, is one of America’s largest oil and natural gas producers, natural gas marketers, gasoline marketers and petrochemical manufacturers (Encyclopedia Britanica).
The main sphere of business of the Shell Oil Company is the exploration for and the production, processing, transportation, and marketing of oil and gas. Additionally, Shell Oil Company owns a noteworthy petrochemicals business, known by the name of Shell Chemicals, and an embryonic renewable energy sector developing wind, hydrogen and solar power opportunities. In 2000 and 2007 Forbes Global ranked Shell to be the eighth largest company in the world (Encyclopedia Briatnica). Also in 2007, Fortune magazine ranked Shell to be the third-largest corporation in the world, following Wal-Mart and Exxon-Mobil. Shell operates in over one-hundred forty countries.
From the above information it can be derived that the Shell Oil Company is a very successful and well recognized corporation. However, at this moment I would like to open the floor not to the discussion of how successful this corporation is, but to how many problems it has caused with its poor corporate social responsibility in Nigeria. The Shell Oil Company began drilling oil in Nigeria in the late 1950s. Most of the company’s pipelines were situated in Ogoniland that is the land of in the Niger Delta region of southeast Nigeria (Naanen, p.75). From the very beginning the company had insolently interfered with the lives of people by building its pipelines across their farmlands and in front of their homes. Couple of years after the pipelines were built it became clear that the people of the region would be constantly suffering from endemic oil leaks from these very pipelines. However, this fact was not taken into consideration and the people had been forced to live with the constant flaring of gas (Naanen, p.75).
The effects of this environmental attack had been devastating. The land was suffocated with oil, the waters were polluted causing complete destruction of the aquatic population, moreover, because of the newly built pipelines the farming areas had been destroyed. People of the land were completely dependent upon farming and fishing, thus the poisoning of the land and water has had devastating consequences (Naanen, p. 76). In addition the destruction of natural resources, oil spills had caused many people of the region to develop such illnesses as bronchial asthma, other respiratory diseases, gastro-enteritis and cancer.
The discussed above happened many years ago, not long after Shell started operating in Nigeria. Thus, one may assume that some actions had been taken in order to prevent the occurrence of further oil leaks. However, this was far from being so. In fact, oil leaks had been continuing for decades. It is interesting to know that even though Shell bores oil in more than thirty countries, at least forty percent of its oil leaks have occurred in the Niger Delta. The region had suffered 2,976 oil leaks between the years of 1976 and 1991. Additionally, in the 1970s the full amount of leakage equaled to more that four times that of the Exxon Valdez that occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in 1989 (Damu and Bacon).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has numerously issued Notices of Violation to the Shell Oil Company for its infringements of the Clean Air Act. Upon such indictments the Company proclaimed the beginning of clean up campaigns, however, such campaigns always consisted of an indeed harmful technique. The technique was as follows, the Company undertook burning of the crude which had resulted in a permanent layer of crusted oil meters thick and scooping oil into holes in the surrounding earth. The Company considered that this response could remove the blame of pollution from it, however, with such solutions it just kept “digging the hole of environmental torts deeper” (Watts, p. 25).
Nigeria has a wide range of natural potentials, this country could have been one of the richest countries of this world because of its affluent natural resources, however, it became one of the poorest. The people of the Nigerian lands that had been mostly effected by oil spill many times tried to stand up for themselves. There have been many organization formed in order to assist their environmental situation and give their children a chance to live better lives (Shah). Nevertheless, the Nigerian government and the oil companies (the Shell Oil Company in particular) have responded by harshly cracking down on protestors. Shell, for instance, has even been criticized for trying to divide communities by paying off some members to disrupt non-violent protests (Shah).
The above reaction of the Nigerian government may come to some as a surprise because one would expect the government of the country to take the side of its people. Nonetheless, for decades already Nigeria has been governed by repressive and corrupt governments. These governments have been supported and maintained by western governments and oil corporations. Furthermore, around eighty percent of Nigerian government revenues come directly from oil, over half of which is from the Shell Company. Thus, it was in the interest of the Nigerian government to crack the uprising against oil corporations and keep on benefitting from the fossil fuels that can be exploited (Shah). Moreover, taking the side of the people would have meant for the Nigerian government to simply sign its death penalty, so it decided to sign the death penalty for the people in Ogoniland and then the people of other countries of Niger Delta (Watts, p. 26).
In addition to the mentioned, not only the government took the side of oil companies, it had also undertaken to physically protect them from protestants by sending militia troops to the demonstration and killing those who did not want to stop protesting. For such services, the Shell Oil Company twice paid the military for going to specific villages and solving the problem with Nigerian people. Although it disputes that the purpose of these excursions was to settle down the rebel, each of the military missions paid for by Shell resulted in fatalities of the natives.
I find it useful to mention exactly what actions the Shell Oil Company had taken in regards to those who were protesting against its actions. Both of the incident occurred in 1993 when there were demonstration against the destruction of farmland to build pipelines. In order to overcome the outrage of the protestors the Shell purchased weapons for the police force in order for them to guard its facilities. Though, the Company did not stop with that and some time later sent permanent security forces into the region with the aim of ensuring constant supervision and protest reduction.
Certainly, the appearance of militia did not stop the protests but even boosted them, though creating the feeling of fear and violence in the region. The militia forces also practiced bribing of the people from different regions of the Niger Delta with the intention to cause causalities between people and make profits on their arguments. The security forces employed by the Shell Company are today accused of murdering of around two thousand people among them many of those who were the activists of the Shell resistance movement. Though, the Company explains that such actions had to be taken and that was the only way to insure stability in the district (Shah).
Without a shadow of doubt, such situation in Nigeria did not leave the world untouched. Lower I would like to present the standpoints of some of the biggest world players. To begin with, I would like to present the standpoint of the United Nations. Observing the situation in Nigeria, the United Nations accused Nigerian government and the Shell Oil Company of abusing human rights and failing to protect the environment in oil producing regions, mainly Ogoniland. Furthermore, the United Nations had called for an investigation into the actions of the Shell Oil Company. The results of this investigation were included in the United Nations report and proclaimed that the Shell Oil Company was indeed responsible for the constant spills and did not do anything about them. Moreover, the report emphasized that the Shell Company had invested money into employing armed forces against protesters. To the surprise of many, the United Nations report was honest and focused on the troubles the Shell Company had caused in the region. Upon drawing of the report the United Nations sent supervisors to the Niger Delta region to oversee the actions of the oil corporations. However, with the presence of the United Nations delegations, problems in the region did not stop.
When it came to the Commonwealth that is a voluntary association of fifty-three independent sovereign states that used to be part of the British Empire it took a rather similar approach to the one of the United Nations. Nigeria, as a developing country, was part of the Commonwealth, however Nigeria’s membership of the Commonwealth was suspended by Commonwealth because of the country’s undemocratic government. The Commonwealth had also sent its activists to the Niger Delta and had multiply made reports and speeches on the matter of human rights and government violence. At the end, despite all the appeals from Nigerian activists, the Commonwealth had failed to carry out the exclusion of Nigeria (Onuoha, pp. 46-47).
The United States of America, the country that is the best-known advocate of human rights and environmental protection, in case of Nigeria did all talk and no action. Without a shadow of doubt the United States did criticize the Nigerian government that acted in the interest of oil companies and not its people. America has also made comments about the military regime present in the country and spoke of a need for the democratic countries’ supervision of Nigerian elections. However, like it was with other world players, the country only threatened the tyrants and did not take any specific actions to assist the situation. Such behavior can be explained by the fact that the United States is the largest consumer of Nigerian oil. Thus, the United States government took actions against the Nigerian government and not the oil corporation operating in the region. It comes without saying that the lobbyists of the oil companies were heavily against aggressive policy towards Nigerian government. For these corporations it was possible to obtain profits only under corrupt government (Onuoha, p. 45).
As of today the oil corporations, especially the Shell Oil Company keep making profits, the human rights and environment activists keep organizing protests and demonstrations about the environmental and social impacts of the oil industry on the Niger Delta, and the world keeps disapproving of the behavior of the oil companies. It is very remarkable that even though the whole world seems to be disapproving of the activities of the Shell Oil Company, today it manages to make the highest profits it has ever made. In conclusion it must be admitted that what the Shell Company has done in Nigeria is despicable. This corporation has turned Nigeria into one of the poorest countries in the world, it has ruined the nature of the country and abused its people. Though, what is even more despicable is that would the same happen in a different country, the world powers would send in troops to punish the offender, while in case of Nigeria these powers spoke words but had no action.