Natural Resources and Social Responsibility: an important step forward

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Shell Nigeria, the largest oil and gas company in that country, has been condemned for environmental damage and human rights abuses resulting from its activities. The District Court of The Hague has recently held that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria was liable for damages and ordered compensation. This sentence can be interpreted as a success towards opening up future avenues to penalize multinationals when they are responsible for environmental damage and other abuses.

 

      Transnationals and extractives companies have been operating in Africa without almost no fear of punishment for their irregular practices. Africa’s economic growth has been deprived of income from their natural resources and, in many cases, foreign companies have avoided their responsibilities for social and environmental damage. Shell Nigeria, having been exempt from liability on so many occasions, has finally been told to pay compensation to a farmer whose land was affected by an oil spill.

       

      Along with the responsibility of transnationals, it is worth noting that some African governments have taken insufficient measures to guarantee correct exploitation of their natural resources and protection of the population. Rights to health, access to water, housing, labour conditions and the environment have been systematically violated by multinationals. Governments need to establish a regulatory framework that makes businesses responsible for their actions.

 

      Resulting from its commitments under the ‘African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights’, African governments should ensure due diligence to enforce laws and regulations protecting the economic, social and environmental wellbeing. Transnational companies are also expected to abide by the industry’s best practices. However, African governments share the responsibility if they do not enforce national laws and international conventions preventing the impunity of these companies, as seems to have been the case in Nigeria regarding the oil industry.

 

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