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european groups: challenging oil and steel giants

Friends of the Earth Europe is campaigning to raise awareness about the impacts of extractive industries. Many developing countries have large reserves of natural resources, such as oil, gas, coal, gold and copper. But decades of irresponsible oil, mining and gas exploration have produced devastating social and environmental effects in many developing countries.

gas-flaring-protestFor example, oil and gas pipeline construction in Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Chad, Georgia, Russia and Turkey is damaging the environment and exhausting scarce resources including land, fishing grounds and forests. All of these are critical for the livelihoods of local populations. Gas flaring in countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia and Kazakhstan emits thousands of tons of toxic emissions, resulting in high levels of atmospheric pollution and damaged crops, as well as respiratory, skin, genetic and other serious ailments. There are many other examples.

Nonetheless, the international financial institutions continue to co-finance investments in the major oil firms, even though these businesses are extraordinarily lax when it comes to complying with international and local laws and standards, and even their own codes of conduct. Toxic waste, oil spills, leaking pipelines, water pollution and depletion, land contamination, permafrost damage, wildlife disturbance, deforestation, infectious diseases, damaged crops and farmlands, and human rights abuses are the result.

In May 2008, four Nigerian citizens, Friends of the Earth Netherlands and Friends of the Earth Nigeria filed a unique lawsuit against Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell. The Nigerians, fishermen and farmers, suffer major damage from oil spills because of oil production by Shell. On 3 December 2009 the case finally started at the court in The Hague. Shell asked the court to rule that the Dutch court has no jurisdiction over Shell Nigeria, but on 30 December the court ruled against Shell: the Dutch court does have jurisdiction over Shell Nigeria. The case continues.

As part of its extractives industries campaign, Friends of the Earth Europe also published a report ‘ArcelorMittal: Going nowhere slowly,’ in May 2009. Friends of the Earth campaigners, as part of the European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ), gained first-hand experience of the social and environmental impacts of the global steel giant at its steel mill in Vanderbijlpark, South Africa. The group met community spokespersons, farmers, workers and ex-workers, unionists and ArcelorMittal representatives, and heard a story of human rights abuses and environmental and social injustice. The resulting report highlights the fact that despite the company’s rhetoric, it continues to destroy the environment, risk people’s lives and displace local communities.

Friends of the Earth Europe also published several other climate-related reports in 2009, focusing on the oil and gas industry. These included reports in both May and June demonstrating that Shell makes a colossal contribution to global climate change and dirty forms of energy, and has now become the most carbon intensive oil company in the world.

A further report, also published in May, provides an overview of all forms of public money spent on the production and primary processing of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal) since 2004, in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

To follow the Shell court case go to: www.shellcourtcase.org

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