(EnergyAsia, July 3 2013, Wednesday) — Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) and Amnesty International said Royal Dutch Shell is making exaggerated claims that sabotage is the main cause of Nigeria’s persistent oil spills to avoid taking responsibility and having to pay compensation for the environmental disasters.

Citing National Contact Point (NCP) of the Netherlands which investigates claims of human rights and environmental abuses against companies, the two organisations said the European major’s statements were based on “disputed evidence and flawed investigations.”

In the mid 1990s, Shell accepted that it was responsible for much of the oil pollution in the Niger Delta. However, recently, it has begun to blame sabotage, oil theft and illegal refining by communities and criminals for most of the problem.

The organisations said NCP “should have gone further” in its criticism of Shell as they provided what they said is evidence of “serious flaws” used by the company for investigating oil spills, including video footage of “serious problems” in a spill investigation.

“Sabotage is a problem in Nigeria, but Shell exaggerates this issue to avoid criticism for its failure to prevent oil spills,” said Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International.

“The oil companies are liable to pay compensation when spills are found to be their fault but not if the cause is attributed to sabotage – but it is effectively the company that investigates itself. This is clearly a system open to abuse and we have evidence that it has been abused.”

Over the last decade, Shell has claimed that most of the oil spilt in the Niger Delta is due to sabotage of its pipelines on the basis of a system that includes publicly contested data and relies almost exclusively on information provided by the company itself, said FOEI and Amnesty.

“The alleged sabotage cases have not been verified by any independent bodies. Moreover, some of Shell’s statements on the percentage of oil spilt due to sabotage are contradictory.”

The two organisations said that by making “misleading and incorrect” statements, Shell has breached the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The NCP, which was established to promote and implement the OECD Guidelines, found that Shell’s investigation process in Nigeria relies heavily on the expertise of the oil companies themselves.

FOEI and Amnesty said that, as the UN Environment Programme found in 2011, “government agencies are at the mercy of the oil companies when it comes to conducting site inspections.”

According to the two organisations, the NCP stated that the “Shell management should have had a more cautious attitude about the percentage of oil spills caused by sabotage” and that “after all Joint Investigation Team (JIT) data are not absolute”.

The NCP called on Shell to “be prudent with regard to general communication to stakeholders of very detailed figures on oil spills, when discrepancies exist with regard to the causes or amounts of those oil spills” and also to “share information on relevant spill causes and spill cause determination procedures, also dated before January 2011.”

The two organisations criticised the NCP for not commenting on whether Shell’s failures constituted a breach of the guidelines.

“It did not make a full assessment of the evidence provided and it failed to investigate whether Shell’s statements were indeed misleading. Amnesty International and Friends of the Earth International repeatedly expressed serious concern that this approach effectively left unaddressed all past harm done to the people of the Niger Delta as a result of Shell’s misleading statements,” they said.

“The NCP failed to speak out against Shell’s abuse in Nigeria. It did not assess key evidence provided and thereby let the company off the hook. For the people of the Niger Delta this is yet another failure of justice,” said Paul de Clerck of Friends of the Earth Europe.

“The NCP is not fit for purpose. It has proven unable or unwilling to tell Shell it should accept responsibility for its mistakes. It is time that the Dutch government introduces a corporate accountability supervisory body with strong teeth.”

The two organisations said that from the outset the NCP was unable to prevent Shell from obstructing the OECD process.

They concluded that as a result of NCP’s failure, the system cannot produce meaningful resolution of issues with Shell.

They said they have decided to withdraw a second complaint to the NCP about Shell’s longstanding role in oil pollution of Ogoniland in Nigeria.

“A process where the party that is the subject of the complaint can set the terms of engagement is setting itself up for failure,” said Mr de Clerck.