Letter: Call for clarity on Nigeria debate

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The Independent Online
From Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi

Sir: Regarding the ongoing debate on your pages between Anita Roddick (Another View, 28 November) and your correspondents (Letters, 1 December) on Shell and Ogoniland, the central issue seems to be getting out of focus.

The real issue is: are the operational standards of Shell in the Delta area of Nigeria comparable to its operational standards in other parts of the world - especially in the developed world? From all available reports, including those of your correspondent in Nigeria, David Orr (30 November and 1 December), the standards of Shell fall below what would be accepted in Europe and the US.

It is no defence for anyone to argue that a multinational operating in the Third World has to conform to the Third World business environment. The consequence of such an argument is that when nationals of a Third World country and the international community become outraged at the business environment of that country, multinationals which have become part of the environment cannot claim innocence. That is the case with Nigeria, Shell and Ogoniland.

The solution is an international convention stipulating that multinationals are under an obligation to have comparable operational standards all over the world. As a first step, western countries should legislate that multinationals registered in their countries should conform to western operational standards in their operations in the Third World, just as the US Congress has legislated that US corporations cannot engage in corrupt practices abroad. That some will always break the law should not deter serious consideration of this approach.

Yours sincerely,

A. Bolaji Akinyemi

London, W2

The writer is a former Nigerian Foreign Minister, now with the pro-democracy movement in Nigeria.