LONDON – Britain’s Supreme Court ruled Friday that a group of Nigerian farmers and fishermen can sue Royal Dutch Shell PLC in English courts over pollution in a region where the Anglo-Dutch energy giant has a subsidiary.
Five justices on the U.K.'s top court said Shell may owe a “duty of care” to the claimants over the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary. Shell had argued that it was not responsible.
The long-running case has been closely watched for its implications about whether large corporations can be sued in London for activities of foreign subsidiaries.
More than 40,000 members of Nigeria’s Ogale and Bille communities took Shell to court in Britain in 2015, alleging that decades of oil spills have fouled the water, contaminated the soil and destroyed the lives of thousands of people in the Niger River Delta, where a Shell subsidiary has operated for decades.
They brought the lawsuit in London, Shell’s home base, because they said the Nigerian courts are too corrupt.
Shell argued that the U.K. courts had no jurisdiction to hear the case.
Britain’s High Court ruled in 2017 that the parent company was not legally responsible and the claim against its subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Co. of Nigeria, should therefore not be heard in the U.K. courts.
The Court of Appeal agreed and the claimants appealed to the U.K.’s top court for a final decision.