Controversy has arisen over RAG week sponsors Shell, after a Dutch court found its daughter company guilty of causing pollution through negligence.
Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell made over £19bn in 2011, and is sponsoring the week-long RAG events raising money for water aid, amongst other charities.
But Subsidiary company Shell Nigeria was last month found guilty of causing pollution to water supplies, due to poorly maintained pipelines in the Nigerian delta.
However, the ruling did not find the parent company Royal Dutch Shell responsible.
In a post on independent University media outlet Free Lunch, the first in York to report the court decision, Euan Raffle said, “In accepting sponsorship from Shell, YUSU have implicitly condoned these actions of Shell [Nigeria] on our behalf and have compromised the excellent fundraising work that goes on at this university.”
Activities Officer Chris West, involved in organising RAG week, said, “Whilst I understand the concerns raised relating to Shell, the Union does not currently have an ‘ethical’ advertising policy and so I feel it would be inappropriate for an officer to ask RAG not to take sponsorship from particular organisations. If this were to happen, any decisions would be based on a personal preference or opinion rather than the collective wishes of our students which is not how the Students’ Union operates.”
With the help of environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, whose lawyers are representing the farmers affected by oil spills, the claims were taken to court in the Netherlands, after years of failure to get the case heard in Nigeria.
72 year-old Nigerian fish farmer Friday Akpan won his case in the Hague district court after oil spills destroyed his 47 fish ponds.
Friends of the Earth says that shell is responsible for thousands of spills in Nigeria over the past 40 years. Inquiries into these spills are lead by Shell Nigeria, but a report by US firm Accufacts disputes their findings, claiming in 2008 that one oil spillage was sixty times larger than Shell Nigeria’s estimates.
Four other farmers making claims against Shell were rejected by the court as they could not prove that it was badly maintained pipelines and not sabotage that caused the oil spills on their land.
How much compensation is to be paid to Akpan is yet to be decided, but the ruling by the Dutch court may set a legal precedent for other companies operating in Nigeria leading to further compensation claims.
West continued, “As Student Activities Officer, it is my responsibility to represent the views of all individuals and groups within the student body. Whilst some may wish to boycott Shell, other members may not wish to as their future employment may lie with them or a similar organisation, thus this decision needs to be a campus wide debate not the choice of one person.”