The unfolding in courts of several cases against Eni and Shell offers a unique opportunity to challenge the social license to operate of these two oil majors which have been heavily criticised for systemic environmental, social and human rights impacts associated with their operations worldwide.
Scaling up the challenge to ENI and Shell
Re:Common was founded in early 2012 as a spin-off of the international program CRBM(Campaign to reform the World Bank) of the Italian NGO Mani Tese. Re: Common got established as an independent and not-for-profit “association of social promotion” under the Italian law. Re: Common works closely and in solidarity with local communities and indigenous peoples, denouncing the abuses and human rights violations perpetrated against them as well as the environmental damages.
The work carried out over the past six years by Re:Common and its partners – including Global Witness, The Corner House in the UK and HEDA Resource Centre in Nigeria - resulted in Eni and Shell, two of world largest oil majors, as well as ENI’s current and former CEOs and several other senior managers and middlemen being sent to trial in Italy in relation to the corrupt acquisition of the $1.1 billion OPL245 license in Nigeria in 2011. OPL245 is one of the largest oil license in Africa and a centrepiece of new offshore oil development in Nigeria. The offshore fields might have reserves up to 9 billion barrels, equivalent of more than one third of Shell’s proven reserves. The historical and landmark court case has begun in Milan in May 2018: It is the first time ever that Shell is on trial for corruption. The Nigerian government as victim is set to request billions of dollars of damages from the companies.
Re:Common’s actions – including also official complaints to public prosecutors - managed also to trigger investigations not just in Italy but also in the United States, The Netherlands and Nigeria on the same corruption case. The Economic and Financial Crime Commission of Nigeria formulated charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering against the Nigerian subsidiaries of Shell and Eni and several Nigerian politicians as well, including the former Attorney General. A decision in the Netherlands to open a court case is expected in the very next months. At the same time Re:Common, through its Nigerian partner HEDA, has challenged the Nigerian government in Court in Abuja to withdraw the Opl245 license from Eni and Shell given that the same government has recognised as illegal and unlawful the 2011 agreements with the companies within successful civil proceeding in London for the recovery of some of the Opl245 proceeds of corruption frozen during investigations. Abuja court admitted the case which will start on October 2nd.
By working on this Nigerian grand corruption case Re:Common got to know relevant information regarding ENI’s operations in the Republic of Congo which are currently investigated by Milan public prosecutor office. Furthermore Re:Common got in close touch with local affected communities in Val d’Agri, Basilicata region, in Sourthern Italy where the largest onshore oil field in Europe is operated by Eni, in cooperation with Total and Shell. Eni is further developing oil extraction in the region. Eni and some of its managers are currently on trial in Basilicata with charges of environmental disaster and the project has been tainted by corruption allegations too.Thanks to Re:Common’s action both cases have been raised by critical voices at last Eni Annual General Meeting (AGM) and put company’s management seriously under pressure.
The unfolding in courts of several cases against Eni and Shell – which is already an achievement – offers a unique opportunity to challenge the social license to operate of these two oil majors which have been heavily criticised for systemic environmental, social and human rights impacts associated with their operations worldwide in the last decades and are among those corporate actors expanding their oil and gas operations against the urgency to tackle climate change instead by keeping fossil fuels in the ground. As a matter of fact, Opl245 should not be regarded just as a grand corruption case, but as a broader case showing the impunity, lack of accountability and dodgy business approach of the two companies at the expenses of the environment and local communities’ rights. Thus broadening the narrative on the case around the two companies offers the opportunity to benefit as well as link with different civil society constituncies – environmentalists, corporate accountability campaigners, investment campaigners, development groups, progressive investors – to tackle the responsibilities of these two corporate actors. Furthermore, most of migrants getting to Italy in the last two years are from Nigeria. Re:Common got already in touch with some of them who escaped from the harsh economic and social conditions in the Niger delta where Eni and Shell operate. Thus the Opl245 case offers too the opportunity to link up with the Nigerian diaspora and migrants in Italy – and possibly in the UK too.
Project specific objectives
In line with the strategy of the Minor Foundation, Re:Common and its partners aim at using the opportunity of these unprecedented multiple legal cases threatening oil majors to build an international communication campaign challenging Eni and Shell on the need to abandon their plan to move oil development offshore in Nigeria. This would benefit the climate as well as the life of many Nigerians in our view. In cooperation with Nigerian and UK groups, campaigning since years for environmental justice in the Niger delta, Re:Common is willing:
1. to expose in the public domain Eni and Shell responsibilities in the Opl245 corrupt deal more systematically in the course of different trials in Italy and Nigeria;
2. to publicly advocate on the Nigerian government to withdraw the license from Eni and Shell as well as not to exploit the oil (and associated gas) of Opl245 while asking significant compensation from the companies;
3. to build a wider civil society movement challenging Eni and Shell responsibilities in oil and gas development by using the unique documentation gathered through the legal work on the Opl245 case and other key cases (Congo and Basilicata);
4. to give voice to the Nigerian diaspora and migrants in Italy in telling stories about the impact of oil and gas development in the Niger Delta, which is dominated by Eni and Shell.