Shell in Nigeria: Corporate Social Responsibility and the Ogoni Crisis (Case Study #20)


January 1, 2000

In November 1995, Ken Saro-Wiwa, a well-known Nigerian author and spokesperson for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), was hanged in Port Harcourt, in the heart of the oil-producing region of southeast Nigeria, together with eight other Ogoni activists all involved in protests against the oil industry.

The Saro-Wiwa case brought into the international headlines a debate over the role played by the oil multinationals in Nigeria that had already been raging for several years. Shell in particular was blamed both locally and internationally as the government first brutally suppressed protests by MOSOP, and finally tried and executed the core of the organization's leadership.

The concept that companies have responsibilities to the community at large other than to make money has gained increasing currency. However, international law is only just beginning to address the behavior of nonstate actors such as transnationals. Consumers, activists, and concerned shareholders have begun to put pressure on the major transnationals to pay more than lip service to ideas of good corporate citizenship, calling for international regulation of corporate activities.

Using the response of Shell to the attacks on its record in Nigeria, this study examines the way in which one transnational corporation has reacted to the challenge of demands that it take on responsibilities beyond maximizing profit.

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