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The Nigerian Man Who Took Shell to the Highest International Court

When Nigerian environmental lawyer Chima Williams launched a lawsuit against oil giant Shell plc, he did not envisage a 13-year battle that would lead to a landmark ruling and land him a prestigious environmental award. Williams, who is the executive director of the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria, successfully convinced the Court of Appeal in the Hague that Shell plc was responsible for the activities of its subsidiary in Nigeria — Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) — and for oil spills that ravaged local farmlands. The suit against Shell Nigeria was brought by four farmers from the Goi and Oruma communities in the country’s oil-rich but impoverished Niger Delta region, who said their farms were left in ruins after major spills from underground pipelines. The decision to allow Shell plc, formerly known as Royal Dutch Shell plc, to be sued in this jurisdiction set a precedent as it was the first time the Dutch parent company was sued in its home country for the actions of its foreign subsidiary, SPDC. Last Wednesday, Williams was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for his work in holding the company accountable for the environmental damage. He is one of seven global winners of the prestigious award, announced Wednesday morning, to honor grassroots, environmental activists. The prize is awarded each year by The Goldman Environmental Foundation, with ceremonies in San Francisco and Washington, DC.