A court in New York is considering whether Royal Dutch Shell can be convicted for the killing of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others in Nigeria by the Nigerian government at the behest of the oil giant. It would set a new precedent for litigation: a foreign corporation charged in a US court for aiding the human rights violations of another government.
My question is, should it really be the corporation that is charged? A corporation is more like a group than a person. If a person shoots and kills another, surely it is he that must face trial. If Royal Dutch Shell is implicated in Saro-Wiwa’s murder, though, who ordered it? Who within the corporation was responsible? Surely it was not everyone but a few people at the top. And to charge Royal Dutch Shell without charging the corrupt members of the Nigerian government for their actions makes little sense.
Moreover, if one were only charging the corporation, the losers would probably be the shareholders more than anyone. While some shareholders presumably made money from the benefit of the silenced opposition, not all shareholders did. Saro-Wiwa was killed in 1995. Did the shareholders know about it and approve it at the time? Perhaps they would not have if they had known. And do those who bought Royal Dutch Shell stock since 1995 deserve to lose money?
I would rather see law meted out to punish the individuals who are criminally responsible for the deaths of Nigerian protestors than simply everyone who happened to be around at the time.