Compensation, or the beginning of justice

October 2013, Oxford

While we are having lunch at Eagle and Child, one court back in London is busy deciding how much Shell should pay the thousands of fishermen from the Bodo community for destroying their livelihoods when its pipes burst five years ago, causing giant oil spills that devastated the Nigel delta. Last month, the company offered around £1,100 per person affected. The whole community perceived this more as an insult, than compensation. Therefore, the offer was rejected – so the courts will now decide the right level of compensation.

But what does that mean – and is money ever enough to compensate for such loss? A whole community devastated, and the Bodo creek out of action for a quarter of a century; forests and swamps thick with oil; water wells polluted; 11,000 people left without electricity, habitat, and source of income. Is money all they deserve in return for everything but their life?

Surely compensation should be just the start of justice for that community and the region. This should be accompanied by an apology and an admission of guilt on the part of the largest company on the London stock exchange. A thorough clean-up process should follow. Both people and the environment need help to recover – and this cannot or should not be just a one-off derisory lump-sum.

£1,000 per life destroyed… I wonder what CS Lewis would make of such an offer, or his fellow ‘Inklings’ who were dining at Eagle and Child a hundred years ago.