Disclaimer: This dissertation has been written by a student and is not an example of our professional work, which you can see examples of here.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this dissertation are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKDiss.com.

Human Rights Records of Multinationals in Nigeria

Info: 5425 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

Reference this

Tagged: Human RightsInternational Relations

Chapter 1


From time immemorial man has depended on his environment for all his material needs. Adam and eve for instance survived with the most basic of sustenance and the story is that they lived exclusively on fruits gathered from the Garden of Eden including the forbidden one. This is a classical case of man’s insatiability with just what is immediately available or sustainable. It is not necessarily greed or avarice but man’s advancement, increasing needs, and quest for the unknown. The instruction to increase and multiply created new pressures for him. The few fruits he gathered from the garden could not sustain his ever-increasing family. Eden also became too small as a result of his obeying the instruction to increase and multiply, and the need to move to unknown destinations became imperative, where he ran into hostile situations such as excessive cold, heat, other various forms of inclement weather; in addition to unfriendly plant and animal life. Movement from point A to B by foot which was the only option available at the time must have been very painful and slow. Therefore man had to fashion out ways of transportation. This started with rafters made from such materials as papyrus, to dug- out wooden canoes for water transportation; the forerunners of our mass transport system, and a large component of man’s current environmental problems.

Mans development continued unabated until the industrial revolution that completely changed forever the relationship of man with his environment. The creation of the internal combustion engine could be regarded as a major landmark in man’s existence on earth which has facilitated the enormous movement of man, and the reduction of the universe into the proverbial global village. It is in this quest for man to satisfy his needs and wants through modern transportation, accommodation, leisure and several other aspects of human endeavor that has led to unprecedented demand for energy. Energy in the form of wind, water, sun, fossil etc has become a preoccupation of modern life. However, one which appears to have an obviously devastating consequence on man’s environment today is fossil energy the prime mover of man’s various activities. The exploration, extraction and exploitation of fossil fuel have so irreversibly impacted the earth that they are considered as the major causative factors of global warming.

In Nigeria the early exploration of solid minerals which started in 1903 was immediately followed by such exploration for fossil oil. The major international company that was involved in this early exploration was Shell D’Arcy. There is every indication that the native communities where these explorations were going on were completely unprepared for the shock of oil activities. First and foremost, there were no specific existing laws in the Nigerian system guiding such human activities and therefore any attempt at either avoiding disaster or remedying any that occurred was almost completely at the discretion of the operating company. According to the Nigerian Ministry of Solid Minerals Development, mineral exploitation in the country was largely carried out without regards to the adverse effects on the environment or the host communities. It was not until 1946 that the minerals ordinance was enacted with provisions for reclamation of mined out lands. In consequence therefore a unit; mines land reclamation unit was established to reclaim the hundreds of abandoned mines land all over the country which were relics of the colonial mining activities. The same or far worse could be said to be the case for oil mineral exploitation. One must bear in mind that Shell D’Arcy was neither CARITAS nor RED CROSS. In the process of their exploration and indeed exploitation, several incidents of damage to the ecosystem had occurred and there are several unwritten stories of this great damage to the ecosystem. The first mineral act for Nigeria was actually written in 1946 *123) and from all indications it was quite defective and concentrated mainly on Solid Minerals, and what the Nigerian government saw as the revenue that would accrue to the nation. The areas dealing with environmental impact abatement occupied very limited space and importance. It is instructive to mention here that the entire minerals and mining sector which included solid minerals and crude oil mining was under one ministry ab initio. It was only when crude oil took precedence over solid minerals that the two were separated in the 1970s before a full- fledged Ministry of Solid Minerals development was established in 1995 which is the structure as at today.

There have been several reported cases of monumental damage to the ecosystem generally and specifically to farm lands, fishing areas and other water courses in the Niger delta of Nigeria as a result of accidents or carelessness on the part of oil companies in several Niger delta areas such as Ogoni land, the current Bayelsa, Warri axis (Bob, 2005). Such devastation has consistently occurred, with the oil companies either paying lip service to such disaster abatement or actually offering very painfully limited amounts of redress to host communities. One reality is clear; because government either by omission or commission (more of commission) had not been in a position to protect the host communities; and their crying interests, we have had cases of unrest in the Niger delta area. Prominent among these unrests are the Ogoni uprising, and of recent, MEND (movement for the emancipation of the Niger delta) with their negative attendant consequences on the Nigerian nation and her economy. These cases of unrest have been extensively documented and had attracted international attention and sympathy.

Much as one would say that the extant laws guiding the exploration and exploitation of crude oil in the country have undergone serious reforms, several factors outside the laws have come to further exacerbate an already difficult situation. Opinion is that while the existing laws are not extremely favorable to host community existence and indeed the entire ecosystem, other human failings in the Nigerian system have lent their weight to inflicting extensive pain on host communities of oil producing areas. The most hurting has been positively identified as “corruption”. The oil companies are 100% profit making organizations. Therefore in this system where a gift of a gold watch and a cup of coffee, could easily make a minister whose job includes enforcement of extant laws to look the other way while operating bodies break all the existing laws, these oil companies naturally found it easier to side track national laws in order to operate at maximum profit while inflicting untold pain and hardship on host communities.


The primary objective of this paper is to broadly examine the interaction between multinationals and the host countries in which they do business from a human rights perspective. For the purpose of this discourse, I will limit my case studies to three prominent multinationals in Nigeria, which are Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil. As earlier stated, some of these industries present a huge number of dangers and in many cases extremely hazardous consequences for employees, inhabitants of certain communities and indeed the environment particularly their effect on flora and fauna. While some of these dangers presented may not be committed intentionally, some individuals are nevertheless made to suffer less than desirable conditions, in the hands of company security agents all of which border on human rights violations. Therefore in this paper, positive and the negative roles played by the multinationals will be examined in order to help assess their human rights records properly. As an integral part of this research also, extant laws, covenants and treaties if any that these multinationals have signed regarding their operations within the country will be examined, as well as the company`s operational guidelines.

Organization Of Dissertation

Chapter 1 is basically concerned with the introduction. For the purpose of this work however, the next chapter will give a brief overview of the country and the history of oil exploration in Nigeria as well as a discussion of the major concept which is human rights from the perspective of several scholars. Chapter 3will focus mainly on the human rights performance of these multinationals (negative and positive), beginning with their corporate social responsibility and how well they have behaved in host communities and abided by their business principles. The forth chapter then will solely be focused on the spillover effects of the activities of the multinationals and as such the reaction of the host communities and the Nigerian government in general. The fifth chapter will be the conclusions and recommendations.

Research Question

1. What are the human rights records of multinationals in the oil industry in Nigeria specifically shell, chevron, and Exxon Mobil?

2. How well have these companies kept to their public statements and operating principles?

Chapter 2

This chapter will give an overview of the country and a brief history of its oil exploration and exploitation in the country, vis a vis, the definition of human rights as defined by several scholars.

Overview Of Nigeria

Nigeria is undoubtedly the most populous nation in Africa with an estimated 140 million people. The nation comprises 36 states and one federal capital territory. Nigeria is also blessed with vast agriculture and mineral resources which include, but not limited to cocoa, cassava, coal, bauxite, tin, tantalite, iron ore, limestone, gold, many precious metals/stones, and most importantly crude oil. Despite being one of the major producers and exporters of oil in the world and also a member of the OPEC, the country has continued to experience endemic poverty and strife notwithstanding the abundance of the above mentioned. All of this can directly be linked to corruption and mismanagement of funds by the ruling elites, with billions of dollars being made each day by major multinationals in diverse joint venture agreements with the government owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). Bob (2005, p.59) argues that “Nigeria`s highly centralized, notoriously corrupt and ethnically riven political system have made it possible for the country`s leaders both military and civilian to siphon most of the revenue from oil”. This institutionalized corruption has almost always been implicated in serious cases of human rights violations. *MITCHELL. According to several authorities including the, US state department, among others, oil exploration and exploitation have often precipitated gross human rights violations, citing several cases of extrajudicial killings, torture (US*), and most of all environmental devastation which has led to the destruction of total ecosystems.

Oil Exploration In Nigeria

The history oil exploration in Nigeria could be dated as far back as the drilling of oil wells in Nigeria by the Nigerian bitumen company in 1903 when mining exploration activities started in Nigeria. However the first major discovery and exploration of oil was in 1956 in oloibiri village in eastern delta of Nigeria (Olorode et al, 1998, p.14). This operation was carried out by Shell D’Arcy now known as shell petroleum development company (SPDC, 2009). Subsequently, oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Chevron Texaco, ENI/Agip, and TotalFinaElf joined in oil exploration activities mostly in the Delta region under a joint venture agreement with state owned NNPC. The oil industry has definitely made a huge impact on the socio-economic life of Nigeria especially as one of its major sources of revenue. However oil exploration as an extractive industry has negatively impacted on the indigenous populations where oil drilling and exploration occur. Despite huge profits amassed by the oil industry, gross environmental devastation and degradation have routinely cropped up with little or no solution being proffered to the situation by the oil industry operatives. According to reports by the committee for the defense of human rights (CDHR), the industry has inflicted unprecedented agony on indigenous communities by completely disrupting water ways, destroying soil, water, air, animal, plant life, and generally causing massive destruction in the eco system especially on the flora and fauna (Olorode, 1998, p.15). Communities affected by oil exploration are those of the Niger delta. The Delta region is made up of a number of indigenous communities and states which include Rivers state, Delta, Bayelsa, cross river and Akwa Ibom and they account for about 80 percent of the oil and gas produced in Nigeria.

The remaining 20 percent are scattered in different parts of the country such as, Imo, and Ondo *(CDHR). Apart from oil and gas, the Niger Delta is also blessed with agricultural land, creeks, forests, rivers, creeks, and coastal waters with fish and sundry marine life (Okonta and Douglas, 2000, p.33). Ironically even in the midst of these abundant natural resources, the region remains one of the poorest and most under developed in the country, with the people suffering from unimaginable diseases and a complete absence of basic facilities which include electricity, clean water, education, hospitals, housing, and good roads*.

Decades of wanton mismanagement of funds and corruption have been cited as the reason for paltry GNP per capita of 280 us dollars, but the reality in the Niger delta is even far worse. A recent survey by the world bank stated that 7 in every 10 Nigerian`s live below $1 a day (*). Furthermore the area has one of the highest population densities in the world, with an estimated 3 percent growth per year, and this burgeoning population in the face of under development has been referred by Okonta and Douglas as the “human ecologists ultimate nightmare; a growing population in an attempt to survive (is) destroying the very ecosystem that should guarantee its survival” (Okonta and Douglas, 2000, p.34).

Most of the suffering of the peoples of the Niger Delta could be attributed to oil companies invading their territories and paying little attention to the plight of the people, and also the ever corrupt government officials and political elites willing to accept bribes and cuts from these multinationals to remain silent. These acts of commission and omission by state functionaries have sometimes been exploited by the multinationals resulting in the brutal repression of dissenting host communities using instruments of state violence (*).

Following is a reference to various definitions and concepts of human rights as elucidated by the aforementioned authorities.

Human Rights

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

—Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

According to the United Nations declaration of human rights (UDHR), rights fall into two major categories namely civil and political rights, as well as socio-economic and cultural Rights”. (Malone, 2003, p.20). Civil and political rights which are also considered as first generation rights are argued to be those unalienable rights to which an individual is entitled. According to the UNDHR they include the right to life, right not to be tortured, right to fair hearing and judicial process.

Forsythe, for instance, explained human rights to be “those fundamental moral rights of the person that are necessary for a life with human dignity.” (Forsythe, 2006, p.3)

Landman (2006), defined human rights as “a set of individual and collective rights that have been formally promoted and protected through international and domestic law since the universal declaration of human rights in 1948” (p.8).

Alston (2005), cited Karel Vazali`s categorization which argues that there are three generations of human rights namely, the first generation – civil and political rights, i.e. right to life and political participation. The second generation according to Alston includes economic, social and cultural rights or collectively, right to subsistence. The third generation rights which is the solidarity rights encapsulates the right to peace and most importantly for the purpose of this discourse is the right to a clean environment.

There are two schools of thought with regards to environmental human rights which are enshrined in article 21 of the African charter on human and people`s rights, which argues that the right to a healthy or adequate environment, constitutes a fundamental component of human rights (African Charter on Peoples and Human Rights: Ratification and Enforcement, Act 1990). The second school of thought posits that environmental human rights are derivable from other human rights including, but not limited to the right to life, the right to health, as well as the right to property (Ibid).

The whole concept of environmental rights is informed by the concept of a right to a habitable environment for the present and generations yet unborn. According to Olorode (1998, p.8), “the extractive industries constitute one of the human activities which have immediate and significant consequences on the environment”. Odu (1977) as quoted in Olorode (1998, p.8) also argued that “extractive industries may alter the ecology so completely that it cannot support agriculture or fishing”

Since this treatise is primarily concerned with the human rights records of select multinational oil companies in Nigeria, relevant clauses of the Nigerian constitution on fundamental human rights are worthy of reference. Chapter four of the Nigerian constitution deals solely with fundamental human rights as enumerated in sections 33 to 46, the keynotes of which are reproduced hereunder:

“33. Right to life

34. Right to dignity of the human person

35. Right to personal liberty.

36. Right to fair hearing.

37. Right to private and family life.

38. Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

39. Right to freedom of expression and the press.

40. Right to peaceful assembly and association.

41. Right to freedom of movement.

42. Right to freedom from discrimination

43. Right to acquire and own immovable property.

44. Compulsory acquisition of property.

45. Restriction on and derogation from fundamental human rights.

46. Special jurisdiction of High Court and Legal aid”

(Sections 33-46, Constitution federal republic of Nigeria (FRN) 1999)

Furthermore section 20 of the same constitution provides that “the state shall protect and improve the environment and safeguard the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria. It can therefore be argued that adequate provisions are already in place at least on paper, for the protection and enforcement of the fundamental human rights of Nigerians with particular reference to environmental rights.

However, section 44(3) vests the entire property and control of all minerals, including oil and gas occurring in any land, upon or under any waters within the Nigerian territory and its exclusive economic zone on the government of the federation which shall manage these resources in the manner prescribed by the national assembly (Constitution, FRN, 1999). This constitutional provision is more often than not relied upon by the government and its institutions, sometimes allegedly at the behest of the multinational oil giants, to suppress and repress legitimate agitations by aggrieved host communities.

The aggrieved host communities are usually either seeking for their fair share of the oil wealth, outright resource control, or demanding for concrete remedial measures against the sundry negative environmental impacts of oil exploration and exploitation such as gas flaring. According to reports by Osouka and Roderick (2005, p.4) Nigeria flares more gas than any country in the world, averaging a staggering 2.5 billion cubic feet of gas associated with crude oil. This they argue to be equal to 40% of all Africa`s natural gas consumption which have contributed more greenhouse gases than the entire sub Saharan Africa as a whole. They posit that “the flaring of associated gas in the niger delta is a human rights, environmental and social monstrosity” (Osouka and Roderick 2005), because the health and livelihood of the inhabitants of these communities are adversely affected by these unmitigated flares which contain a plethora of pollutants resulting in “an increased risk of premature deaths, child respiratory illnesses, asthma and cancer” Osouka and Roderick (2005, p.29). Osuoka and Roderick further reported that the commission had contended that the Nigerian government had in principle admitted complicity for this hazardous practice by stating that “there is no denying the fact that a lot of atrocities were and are still being committed by the oil companies in Ogoni land and indeed the entire niger delta area of Nigeria” (Osuoka and Roderick, 2005, p.29)

Prior to the 1999 constitutional provision, the federal military government had in 1969 promulgated the petroleum decree which effectively abrogated the 1954 revenue allocation formula that provided for the equal sharing of mining revenue between the regions and the federal government (Oronto and Okonta, 2000, p.40). Furthermore decree 6 of 1975 increased the federal government’s share of the oil proceeds from 50% to 80% leaving the states with only 20% (Oronto and Okonta, 2000, p.41).

Oronto and Okonta further contended that a senior permanent secretary in the administration of former military head of state general Gowon had “cynically remarked in a public lecture that the people of the niger delta were most unlikely to pose any real threat to the regimes continued exploitation of their oil wealth as they were relatively few in population and thus could be easily subdued”, (Oronto and Okonta, 2000, p.41). They therefore concluded “that this is exactly what the Nigerian military junta has done beginning from the mid eighties when the people of the Niger delta began to raise their voices in protest (Oronto and Okonta, 2000, p.41).

Following in the next chapter therefore is a detailed report on the activities of the select multinationals with particular reference to their corporate social responsibility (CSR), on the one hand, and their alleged collusion with the authorities to perpetrate gross human rights violations against the host communities, on the other. However business and operating principles will first of all be examined before delving into the detailed report.

Chapter 3

Operating Principles

“The voluntary principles on security and human rights are a unique tripartite, multi stakeholder initiative established in 2000 that introduced a set of principles to guide extractive companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within an operating framework that ensures respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The voluntary principles address three main areas: risk management, interactions between companies and public security and interaction between companies and private security”

Voluntary principles on security and human rights, 2000

Prior to this time, shell which was the first multinational to start exploration in Nigeria had to abide by the 1948 universal declaration of human rights which called on all, including companies to respect the rights of individuals. However there were no concrete laws in the nation at the time as regards exploration and exploitation, therefore SPDC formed its own set of principles to which it conducted its operations in 1979 (SPDC, 2003). Subsequently other multinationals in this review (Exxon Mobil, and Chevron) began their operations within the nation in 1955 and 1913 respectively with their own business principles that would guide their operations and several other treaties that they signed on to. One critical factor about their operating principles is that they appear to be similar in most of the various areas of human rights and CSR with virtually the same rules. SPDC for instance has in its portfolio a set of guiding principles apparently aimed at bringing development to the host communities in particular and the entire environment of its operations generally, some of which are:

  1. Sustainable development:

  2. Responsibility to the society

  3. Health, safety , and security

  4. Local communities

  5. Communication and engagement

Shell argues that the above mentioned principles govern all of its operations and bodies within the country. For instance its business principles to society is “to conduct business as responsible corporate members of society, to comply with applicable laws and regulations, to support fundamental human rights in line with legitimate role of business, and to give proper regard to health, safety, and the environment”(SPDC, 2009*). Principle 5 therefore guarantees health, while one which is regarded as primary in relation to this discourse is principle 6 which states that

“Shell companies aim to be good neighbours by continuously improving the ways in which we contribute directly or indirectly to the general wellbeing of the communities within which we work. We manage the social impacts of our business activities carefully and work with others to enhance the benefits to local communities, and to mitigate any negative impacts from our activities. In addition, Shell companies take a constructive interest in societal matters, directly or indirectly related to our business”. (SPDC, 2009)

Similarly, ExxonMobil argues that it’s “standards of business conducts provide a framework for their operations responsibly, and that they abide by the United Nations Declaration of Human rights as it applies to companies, the fundamental Principles and rights at work of 1998 ILO Declaration, and are active participants of the earlier stated voluntary principles on Security and Human rights and most recently the UN global compact (*). They also argue that they “comply with all environmental laws and regulations and apply responsible standards where laws or regulations do not exist” (ExxonMobil, 2009) interesting!

Chevron also like the other companies in this review abides by the UNDHR, and has adopted certain treaties and covenants such as the ILO principles and rights at work, the UN global compact, as well as its own company`s business operating principles which are all geared towards ensuring that it operates and maintains high standards in its activities in host countries/communities (*). According to the company`s principles regarding respect for human rights, it maintains that it supports universal human rights and as such condemns human rights abuses (sec 1.27,p.29). Furthermore with regards to the environment,

“Corporate Policy 530 commits Chevron to comply with the letter and spirit of all environmental, health and safety laws and regulations “(sec 1.4) P.14.

With this said, a full detailed report of the human rights records of the multinationals under study will be reviewed.

Spdc (Shell Petroleum Development Company)

Unarguably one of the biggest and profitable companies in the world, Shell first began its global operations in 1907 as an offshoot of the British owned shell transport and trading company (STTC) and the royal Dutch petroleum company of the Netherlands

(Okonta and Oronto,2000. P.62). Since then, the multinational has spread its wings to virtually all countries of the world, and this giant produces oil and gas in approximately 45 countries of the world with interests in other natural resources such as zinc, uranium coal mining and a host of others in about a hundred countries (ibid P.62). “As measured by its business peers and even many of its adversaries, it is seen as an outstanding company” (Doyle, 2002. see preface). SPDC was granted its exploration license in 1938 to prospect for oil throughout Nigeria” (Okonta, Douglas, 2001, pp.37-39), and it teamed up with British Petroleum to open up the Nigerian oil Fields the first oil well being explored and drilled in Oloibiri in 1956 (ibid). On the 17th of February 1958, shell`s first official oil shipment from Oloibiri was made, producing an estimated 367,000 barrels a day. (*REVIEW SENTENCE)SPDC in its own ways has impacted positively and added value to the lives of the citizens, for example through the annual shell scholarship which is open to virtually all students in the Nigerian higher education system. Furthermore, shell was recognized as the first multinational to begin a HIV/AIDS in Nigeria intervention programme and thus this programme has reached most states in the federation*. SPDC has also sponsored several programmes such as IT and various digital learning programmes for schools in Nigeria. However for the most part, shell has built a few schools within the delta region one of which happened recently in Bayelsa state(*). In the area of compensation for environmental devastation and involvement with human rights abuse, SPDC, argues that it offers adequate clean up of the polluted environment and has compensated the best way it can (*REF). Most recently, the families of late ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues were settled by the multinational, however it was assumed by the general public as settlement for shell`s involvement with the case, shell on the contrary denied, and claimed that it was a humanitarian gesture aimed at establishing a trust fund for Ogoni people (SPDC, 2009). Most recently, SPDC launched series of business radio programs towards the economic development of the Niger Delta which would also use initiatives such as LIVEWIRE, telecommunications self employment programmes among others (Yusuf, 2009, p.A4)

SPDC also claims to support and finance community development initiatives in the Niger Delta outside of its tax obligations. These initiatives are reportedly in the area of small business development (SPDC, 2009, p.1). In 2008, SPDC contributed $56.8 million to the over $158.2 million statutory disbursements to the NDDC by Shell-run operations, in addition to another $25.2 million SPDC contribution to an additional $84 million investment by operations run by SPDC in various development projects (ibid,p.1). SPDC also reportedly invested $2.25 Million in partnership with USAID Nigeria and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in an $11.3 million project to develop cassava farming over a five year period. More than 3,200 farmers were said to have received training under this programme (ibid, p.2).

However, it is generally believed that the exploitation and devastation of land of the people of the Niger delta began with the first discovery of crude in Oloibiri village in the Delta region of the then Eastern Nigeria in 1956.

For the records, there was a 50-50 profit sharing agreement put in place by the Nigerian government and multinational oil companies at the time shortly before Nigeria gained its independence from the British in 1960. Amidst all of this Nigeria had a series of changed governments including several military coups which gave room for corruption. Presently, shell accounts for about 50 percent of oil production in the country the bulk of it in the Niger Delta with the attendant gas flaring, oil spillage, illegal building of canals and waste dumping that has brought the human ecosystem of the Delta area to a near-total collapse, destroying farmland, economic crops and fishing creeks*. While this degree of devastation, poverty, disease, loss of lives and property occurs in this area, unfortunately shell despite many covenants and treaties it has ratified on corporate re

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

Related Content

All Tags

Content relating to: "International Relations"

International Relations are the partnerships, connections and relationships between countries and different cultures. Such relationships within the subject of International Relations can relate to laws, economics, policies, and more.

Related Articles

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this dissertation and no longer wish to have your work published on the UKDiss.com website then please: