Dirty Work: Oil Security Spendings and Human Rights Abuses

Apart from its colossal scale, what is striking about Shell’s security spending in Nigeria is its ineffectiveness. Shell spent many millions of dollars each year on government forces who failed to provide the company with adequate security.

It is no surprise the US government observed that Shell’s over-reliance on military forces created “serious internal friction” at the company.

As early as 2003, Shell and Chevron dismissed the performance of the JTF as “underwhelming”.
In August 2011, a current Shell manager in Nigeria told Platform that the military was “a total disappointment”. In his view: “the amount of money we are spending on these soldiers, if we take 10 per cent of it and spend it on the communities, then when they wake up every morning, they will say ‘Shell, it will be well for you’”.

Shell should focus its resources on ensuring government forces are held accountable for wrongdoing, cleaning up decades of pollution and providing redress to the victims of abuses. 

Instead, Shell’s security spending has:

  • reinforced the impunity enjoyed by human rights abusers; 
  • enabled indiscriminate military attacks; 
  • hardened the ongoing militarisation of the Delta; 
  • exacerbated communal conflicts and become a potent force in conflict dynamics;
  • exposed the company to potential liability for aiding international crimes.

Soldiers, militants and PMSCs have benefited from Shell’s vast flows of security spending in Nigeria, while local residents have been routinely killed, tortured or displaced. Shell’s security expenditure has also supported repressive regimes across the
MENA region, including Syria.

Shell spent at least $383 million on security in Nigeria between 2007 and 2009, according to company data leaked to oil watchdog Platform.[1] Shell’s leaked data is analysed in a new Platform briefing, Dirty Work: Shell’s security spending in Nigeria and beyond, which shows that a substantial amount of Shell’s security spending went into the hands of known human rights abusers in the volatile Niger Delta region.[2]

The briefing, as reported in the Guardian today, reveals the extent of Shell’s financial support for Nigerian government forces and other armed groups during a period of intense conflict in the Delta. It follows Platform’s 2011 report, Counting the Cost, which showed how Shell’s reliance on government forces in Nigeria and its routine payments to armed militant groups had exacerbated specific cases of human rights abuse. The new briefing confirms the vast scale of Shell’s security expenditure and its devastating consequences.

Key findings include:

  • Shell spent over $1 billion on global security between 2007 to 2009. At least $383 million of that was spent in Nigeria, or 40% of Shell’s total expenditure.
  • In 2009, Shell’s financial support for government forces in Nigeria, including the notorious ‘kill and go’ police, reached an estimated $65 million.
  • Shell executives appear to have turned a blind eye to unexplained security expenditure of $75 million in Nigeria in 2009.
  • During the period, Shell’s security spending fuelled conflict and enabled systematic human rights abuses by government forces and armed militants.[3]

Platform’s briefing raises major questions about Shell’s security policies and procedures. It recommends that Shell publish the details of any payments it makes to the Nigerian government, police and armed forces. Shell should stop making payments to government forces, local contractors and community groups where there is a significant risk that those payments will fuel human rights abuses. It should also avoid using private military and security contractors who are known to exacerbate conflict. Similar recommendations apply to other companies operating in Nigeria such as Chevron, Eni/Agip, ExxonMobil and their contractors.

Platform’s Ben Amunwa said: ”Apart from its enormous size, what is striking about Shell’s security spending is how little security it actually created. Shell paid many millions of dollars to government forces with a track record for corruption and creating instability across Nigeria. Shell appear to have spent even larger sums on pacifying militant groups, a practice that has worsened the violence. While primary responsibility for human rights abuses lies with the Nigerian government and other perpetrators, Shell bears a heavy responsibility for the devastating social impacts of its security spending.[4]

“Shell’s security spending in Nigeria is a colossal failure of due diligence. Instead of spending vast sums on harmful security practices, Shell should address the root causes of the conflict by cleaning up decades of oil spills, ending gas flaring, adequately compensating the victims of human rights abuses and insisting that government forces and other perpetrators are held accountable for violations.”

Andy Rowell of Spin Watch said: “Soldiers, militants and mercenaries have all benefitted from Shell’s spending, whilst impoverished local residents have been routinely killed, tortured or displaced. Shell bears a significant responsibility for its active contribution to human rights violations and must stop its routine security payments. It must also overhaul its contracting and community engagement procedures and clean up its mess in Nigeria.”


[1] The data orignates from Shell’s security department and was leaked to Platform by an ex-Shell manager. Download the data here.

[2] Dirty Work is available to download here. It was created with the aid of Platform’s online timeline of the US embassy cables on oil conflict in Nigeria.

[3] Some examples of state killings and communal conflicts fuelled by Shell include Uzere (2011), Gbaramatu (2009), Rumuekpe (2005-2008), Joinkrama 4 (2007-2010), Oru Sangama (2004), Dere (2009-2010), Odioma (2005), and Warri (2003).

[4] Shell is currently trying to persuade the US Supreme Court not to hold corporations accountable for human rights violations overseas, (see Too Big to Punish). The Kiobel v Shell lawsuit accuses the company of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity and other human rights abuses committed by Nigerian military troops against the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta during the 1990s. For more recent cases of corporate complicity in human rights abuse, see Platform’s Counting the Cost report (2011).