Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some Good News

Sometimes little people get to have a victory against the corporatocracy, and sometimes the media even reports the victory, albeit in buried articles or editorials. Yesterday's Boston Globe editorial notes such a time. In this case, the editorial points to the fact that rather than go through a lengthy trial in which its despicable business practices and complicity in human rights violations would be exposed, Royal Dutch Shell and its subsidiary in Nigeria settled the case brought against them in a US court by Nigerians affected by the rapacity of the multinational oil company.

A HEARTENING human rights precedent was established last week when the Royal Dutch Shell company and its Nigerian subsidiary settled a suit brought in a Manhattan court. The suit charged the company with complicity in the 1995 execution by a Nigerian military regime of nine activists who had been protesting Shell practices on behalf of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta.

The respected author, environmentalist, and human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa was among the protesters put to death in 1995 after a bogus trial. Shell has agreed to pay $15.5 million to Saro-Wiwa’s son and other relatives of the executed activists, a portion of which will go into a trust for social programs in the region affected by Shell’s oil spills and gas flaring. Now, multinational corporations can no longer count on impunity for human rights abuses and environmental degradation in lands where they extract valuable resources.
[Emphasis added]

As the editorial pointed out, a settlement is not necessarily an admission of guilt by the oil company. In fact, the company is spinning the settlement as a "humanitarian gesture." Here's what the corporate press release had to say about it:

Shell today agreed to settle a court case in New York related to allegations in connection with the Nigerian military government's execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in 1995, making a humanitarian gesture to set up a trust fund to benefit the Ogoni people. ...

The settlement and other payments together total $15.5 million, which will provide funding for the trust and a compassionate payment to the plaintiffs and the estates they represent in recognition of the tragic turn of events in Ogoni land, even though Shell had no part in the violence that took place. In addition, they cover plaintiffs’ costs and fees.
[Emphasis added]

Oh, please.

Once the US court took jurisdiction in the case, the oil company knew it was in trouble. The trial would have put on display just how these corporations do business, including how they pay off brutal dictators in order to steal the resources that poorer nations have and how they stand back, their hands in their pockets, as those dictators hammer those who dare try to defend their land and livelihoods.

In the grand scheme of things, $15.5 million is a pittance for giants whose quarterly profits set records in the billions each time they are reported. As far as the corporats are concerned, it was money well-spent.

Still, the Globe editorial is right: it set a precedent, one that just might wind up costing such miscreants even more down the road.

Score one for us.

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