A Dutch appeals court ruled Friday that four Nigerian farmers may take their case against oil giant Shell to a judge in the Netherlands, in a landmark ruling involving multinational corporate governance.
"The Dutch courts and this court consider it has jurisdiction in the case against Shell and its subsidiary in Nigeria," Judge Hans van der Klooster said at the appeals court in The Hague.
The four farmers and fishermen, backed by the Dutch branch of environmental group Friends of the Earth, first filed the case in 2008 against the Anglo-Dutch company in a court case thousands of kilometres from their homes.
They want Shell to clean up devastating oil spills in four heavily-polluted villages in the west African country's oil-rich Niger Delta, prevent further spills and pay compensation.
The farmers also want Shell to disclose a number of documents they believe could show the company's negligence in maintaining its oil pipelines and guarding against sabotage.
In return, court documents reveal, Shell wanted the judges to scrap Dutch jurisdiction over cases in Nigeria and rule the farmers' appeal inadmissible.
In January 2013 a lower Dutch court threw out most of the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs could not hold Shell's parent company responsible for the pollution which has for years blighted the southeastern delta system in Africa's largest oil producer.
In that ruling, judges said Shell's Nigerian subsidiary was partly responsible and ordered it to compensate farmers and fishermen in one claim, in the Delta village of Ikot Ada Udo, but not in the three other claims.
On Friday morning, the Dutch judge appeals judge however agreed with the Nigerian farmers' appeal.
"All appeals by Shell are rejected," judge Van der Klooster said as he also ordered the massive energy group to hand over the documents.