Nigeria widows vs. Shell: ‘Complex but interesting,’ an EUR Professor says

Four Nigerian women are suing oil company Shell for being partly responsible for the death of their husbands. The men belonged to a group that protested against Shell in Nigeria and were executed by the regime in the '90s. Professor Liesbeth Enneking (holder of the Endowed Chair Legal Aspects of International Corporate Responsibility, Erasmus School of Law), comments on the chances of the widows. ‘It’s a complex, but interesting case.’


According to the four women, Shell supported and financed violence against the inhabitants of an area the company had been extracting oil from before 1993. In the US, several cases have already been pursued, and last week Shell was sued in the Netherlands. If it comes to a case, it will be the first time that a judge will rule about the suspected cooperation between Shell and the Nigerian regime and whether that was a legal one.

Good chance
Chances that it will come to that are rather high, says Enneking. Several media outlets asked her about her opinion. ‘In a case that was filed against Shell on behalf of some farmers whose land was polluted, a few years ago, the judge already said that a Dutch judge could handle the case. The fact that the accusations were against a Nigerian subsidiary didn’t matter, so that’s one difficulty that’s out of the way,’ she says to newspaper NRC Handelsblad.

Complex, but interesting
‘It will be a complex, but interesting case. The lawyers of the US cases were able to demand a lot of evidence from Shell. That material will be used by the four widows in the case in the Netherlands.’

If they win, their biggest award will be the publicity. ‘The reparations probably won’t make the difference. They will be determined according to Nigerian law and standards. The Dutch judge won’t allow the compensation to contain a punishing element, like in the US, where such a thing can rise to millions of dollars.’ She also thinks Shell might try to settle, as has happened before. Why? ‘Unlike pollution, the executions are a historical incident that probably won’t repeat.’


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