In October and December 2015, the Ogale and Bille Nigerian communities filed parallel complaints against the UK company Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell) and its Nigerian subsidiary Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in the UK High Court. The claimants sought a remedy for the extensive oil pollution caused by Shell arguing that it had affected their livelihoods and the environment. They claimed that Shell had failed to prevent oil spills and did not conduct proper clean-up. The plaintiffs argued that Shell had not seriously prevented contamination of agricultural land and waterways. They argued that Shell, as the parent company, owed them duty of care because it exercised significant control over the material aspects of SPDC’s operations and was responsible for them.
In January 2017, the High Court held that the claimants could not sue Shell in English Courts. The Court held that there was not sufficient evidence that Shell exercised a high degree of oversight, control or direction over SPDC. It therefore had no legal responsibility as a parent company for pollution by its Nigerian subsidiary. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision in February 2018. The Court held that the parent company did not hold a duty of care towards the affected communities. In May 2020 the plaintiffs filed an appeal with the UK Supreme Court, arguing that the parent company Shell owed them a common law duty of care in respect to the extensive environmental harmed caused by their business operations in Nigeria. On 12 February 2021, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and ruled that the case could proceed in the UK Courts. The decision determined that there is an arguable case that Shell is legally responsible for the pollution caused by the activities of its subsidiary to the Ogale and Bille communities.
Date of decision:
12 February 2021
The UK Supreme Court ruled that UK courts have jurisdiction over the case, due to the fact that the parent company may owe the plaintiffs a duty of care and therefore the action against Shell constitutes a triable issue.
UK Supreme Court, Okpabi and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell and Others, UKSC 2018/0068, Judgment of 12 February 2021,  UKSC 3.
The similar (on the facts) case of Milieudefensie and Others v. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (before the Dutch courts).
For the full judgment, click here.
To watch a webcast of the hearing, click here.