Solomon Hughes on how Shell tried to downplay an oil spill which destroyed a Nigerian fishing industry for a generation
Earlier this month Shell finally announced an out-of-court settlement paying £55 million to 15,000 Nigerian fishermen and their community in compensation for a massive oil spill which destroyed their fishing industry for a generation.
Shell admitted liability for the oil spill in 2011, but has been arguing about the size of the spill and the compensation for years. Martin Day of the fishermen’s lawyers Leigh Day welcomed the settlement but said it was “deeply disappointing” that Shell took so long to agree the payment.
In September 2013, Shell met the fishermen directly but, their lawyers said, the fishermen rejected an offer that was “derisory and insulting.”
Leigh Day said that Shell was “playing games with people’s lives.”
Amnesty International, which also took the fishermen’s side, said Shell had relied on data showing only a small oil spill around the town of Bodo, rather than the massive spill that it actually finally admitted to in court.
Amnesty International “firmly believes Shell knew the Bodo data were wrong. If it did not it was scandalously negligent.”
Who could be running a company that took so long to be held responsible?
Tony Blair’s former foreign policy adviser Nigel Sheinwald joined Royal Dutch Shell’s board in July 2012, and sits on its corporate social responsibility committee.
The former Blair aide has been in charge of Shell’s “responsibility” for much of the time that the Nigerian fishermen have been saying the firm was irresponsible.
The latest corporate social responsibility report is full of claims that Shell acted responsibly over oil spills in the Niger Delta, but there was no mention of the Bodo claim.
The final Bodo settlement suggests the fishermen were right. Sheinwald was one of Blair’s chief advisers during the Iraq war, so this is the second time he has been involved in an oil-linked disaster.
Tories in convenient places
Pressure is building on the Boris Johnson-backed Barnet Council scheme to replace a London council estate with a private development called Hendon Waterside.
Last year estate residents launched protests and petitions against the scheme arguing it is one more example of the mayor and Barnet’s Conservative-run council’s preference for housing the well off, while making things harder for ordinary people.
Barratt is offering the cheapest one-bedroom flats at Hendon Waterside for £283,000 — which is way beyond what the current council tenants can afford.
They will be kicked out and replaced either by the well off or private landlords.
Barratt’s website actually advertises the flats for sale by with a “gross rental yield” — the kind of money a landlord could make by buying then renting out a house.
The Hendon Waterside protesters have attracted attention and got an official planning inquiry to inspect the scheme.
The inquiry is currently holding hearings, and the tenants are making sure they are heard.
So Barratt might be feeling the pressure, but luckily for the developer it has strengthened its links with the Tories as the protests have grown.
Tim Collins — not the former MP of the same name — was appointed as the deputy director of communications for the Conservatives in 2013, as part of their election team.
Before that Collins was chief of staff to Grant Shapps, currently Conservative chair and formerly a housing minister.
However Collins decided not to stay with the Tories for the election — instead he has taken a new job as head of communications in the Southern Region of Barratt Developments Plc — the developer behind the Hendon Waterside scheme.
In December MPs on the public accounts committee accused accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) of “selling tax avoidance on an industrial scale” with its elaborate Luxembourg-based tax schemes for big companies.
But days before the MPs’ strong words, Treasury Minister David Gauke announced that he relies on evidence from PwC in drawing up tax policy.
At the end of November Gauke helped PwC launch a dubious report on taxes paid by big companies.
Gauke claimed the report gave “invaluable evidence for us to draw on in shaping tax policy.”
The Total Tax Contribution report tries to show companies pay a lot more than just corporation tax.
However the report artificially inflates company tax contribution by adding “taxes collected” to their sums — meaning taxes which companies help collect but do not actually pay, like employees’ income tax collected through PAYE or VAT collected from customers.
Gauke gave a speech for PwC which showed the whole anti-corporate tax agenda promoted by the company is shared by the government.
He denounced the “narrative about big, bad multinationals” and said corporation tax is “one of the most distortive and growth-damaging taxes.”
According to the Treasury, Gauke is responsible for “strategic oversight of the UK tax system,” corporate taxation and “European and international tax issues.”
His speech was music to PwC’s ears, as the firm’s leaked Luxembourg schemes are designed to help avoid corporation tax.
The very report which Gauke was helping to launch was based on reports from PwC clients who are also named in the leaked Luxembourg tax files, including drug firm Shire, City trader Icap and clothes firm Burberry.
Former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn has been attacking Andy Burnham over Labour’s call for slowing down privatisation in the NHS.
Milburn (pictured) says Burnham should “put his foot to the floor” and speed through “reform” — meaning privatisation.
It will help Milburn, who is an adviser to Bridgepoint Capital, a private equity firm that profits from NHS privatisation through firms it owns including Alliance Medical and Care UK. But it won’t help the NHS.
Care UK runs many of the defective 111 phone lines whose untrained staff are directing extra traffic to casualty and extra money into his employer’s pockets.