Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell: An opportunity to honour international standards or another instance of corporate impunity?

Gabriela Quijano, Amnesty International


On 14 February 2018, a UK Court of Appeal dismissed the Okpabi v Royal Dutch Shell (RDS or Shell) appeal on the basis that RDS could not be held legally responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). Claims against RDS and SPDC were brought on behalf of two Nigerian communities (the Ogale and Bille communities) in 2016, alleging serious human rights harm stemming from decades of oil pollution in the Niger Delta. They were brought to the UK courts on the basis that RDS, with its headquarters in London, allegedly controlled and directed its fully-owned Nigerian subsidiary, SPDC.

This decision is highly concerning for two main reasons. Firstly, it denies the Ogale and Bille communities an opportunity for justice in a case where the chances of obtaining meaningful reparation in Nigeria are virtually non-existent. Secondly, it backtracks on prior UK court decisions on parent company liability and makes regressive statements with potentially serious repercussions for broader corporate accountability efforts. Below is a brief account of these concerns.

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