Shell Oil in Nigeria
The corporate image of Shell Oil Company has certainly tarnished because of the irresponsible actions the multinational committed in Nigeria. Disregarding the interests of virtually all stakeholders aside from investors, Shell made a classic case of improper behavior for business ethics. However, noninterference in the affairs of a sovereign government seems to be the right step.
The political structures represent sovereign people of a nation and in this way should be above business. In fact, the political leaders elected by people are vested with the right to set limits and regulations for businesses in the name of these people. Shell was acting unethically when it chose to cooperate with the military junta to repress the uprising in Ogoniland.
The decision to dictate actions to a sovereign government would not remedy the situation because it would mean that Nigeria would be run by Dutch businessmen, not Nigerians themselves. It is true that the junta violated Nigerians’ human rights, but the installation of power of a foreign business entity would have been even more disastrous to the people. Such a position would remove the last shreds of sovereignty from political decision-making in the nation.
In fact, the primary responsibility for maintaining human rights and providing peace and stability in the nation lies with the government. Most international juridical bodies concerned with human rights including the European Court of Justice, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and UN human rights organs make decisions “the paradigm of state responsibility by asserting that the state’s tolerance of a private human rights abuse actually violates the state’s duty to protect the right through legislation, preventive measures, or provision of a remedy” (Ratner, 2001).
Thus, it is the state’s duty to restrict corporations, and not vice versa. Corporate social responsibility is just another safeguard against violations, but it cannot be taken as the main bulwark against abuses. The main responsibility lies with the political entity, while ethical business should not interfere in internal decision-making or inspire violations.
Ratner, S. (2001). Corporations and Human Rights: A Theory of Legal Responsibility. Yale Law Journal
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