The remarks were made by Andrew Brown, a member of the Royal Dutch Shell executive committee, at the Shell annual lecture, an event affiliated with the University, at Emmanuel College on the 20th November.
When asked by host Stephen Sackur, a former BBC foreign correspondent, whether he was proud of what Shell had “done over the years in Nigeria”, Brown replied that “I am, I’m fundamentally proud of what happened in Nigeria”.
The comments are likely to raise eyebrows given the controversial nature of Shell’s involvement in Nigeria. On November 28th, Amnesty International called on the British, Dutch, and Nigerian governments to investigate, with a view to prosecution, the role of Shell in human rights abuses in the 1990s.
The human rights group accused Shell of “complicity in murder, rape and torture” in the Ogoniland in the 1990s. Protests against oil exploration at the time led to a brutal crackdown from the Nigerian government. Nine men were executed, including writer Ken Saro-Wira, in November 1995 in a move that was globally condemned.
Following a review of internal documents and witness statements, Amnesty accused Shell of encouraging “the Nigerian military to deal with community protests, even when it knew the horrors this would lead to – unlawful killings, rape, torture, the burning of villages”.
A spokesperson for Shell said the company “have always denied, in the strongest possible terms, the allegations made in this tragic case”.
“The executions of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his fellow Ogonis in 1995 were tragic events that were carried out by the military government in power at the time. We were shocked and saddened when we heard the news of the executions. Shell appealed to the Nigerian government to grant clemency,” they continued.
Shell has long had a history of controversy in Nigeria. In 2015 they made a £54m settlement with the Bodo community after two oil spills in 2008 and 2009. A 2011 UN report said it could take 30 years for the area to recover from the spills, with families facing an increased exposure to carcinogens.
As of January 2017, the clean-up operation was yet to start.
At the event on the 20th, Brown also claimed that “the vast majority of oil spills are caused by sabotage”.
When challenged by Sackur that that had not always been the case, Brown replied: “Look, we’ve had some operational spills, the Bodo case, we settled that, we settled in court. The thing is, we will take responsibility for the harm we cause, and we have done in Nigeria, and will continue to do so.”
In a statement to Varsity, Cambridge Zero Carbon Society press officer Angus Satow called Brown’s comments “egregious and sickening”, saying they demonstrated “an utter callousness" on the part of Shell for its alleged complicity in human rights abuses in Nigeria.
Zero Carbon also criticised the University for its continued investment in Shell. The release of the Paradise Papers revealed that Cambridge has invested in an offshore fund which in turn has invested heavily in Royal Dutch Shell.
Dutch investigators are also currently looking into the company about a 2011 purchase of an oil field, which some allege was corrupt