Urhobo Historical Society

November 2 – 4, 2001


A Conference Paper

By O. Igho Natufe, Ph.D.*

*O. Igho Natufe is a Senior Policy Research Advisor with the Canadian Government, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is also the Deputy Chair of the Urhobo Historical Society. He taught Political Science and International Relations at Canadian, Ghanaian and Nigerian universities. The views and opinions expressed in this paper do not reflect nor represent the views and opinions of the Canadian Government nor of the Urhobo Historical Society.


This paper grapples with the concepts of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility with emphasis on Nigeria's Niger Delta. A region endowed with immense natural resources, especially crude oil, the Niger Delta ranks among the largest deltas in the world. The territory of the Niger Delta cuts across eight of Nigeria's 36 states, but the core areas are within the states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Rivers. These are the states of primary concern to this paper. They constitute what has been referred to as the "South-South" geopolitical region of Nigeria.

Oil exploration is the major economic activity in the Niger Delta. The focus of this paper, therefore, will be on the impact of this activity on the ecosystem and the people of the Niger Delta. It will use, as a case study, the activities of the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC) as a representative of oil exploration and exploitation in the Niger Delta.


The objectives are to:

The Concepts

Sustainable Development

In order for us to establish a global perspective on the principles of sustainable development, it is imperative that we proceed from a detailed evolutionary analysis of the concept as enunciated by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) in its seminal work,  Our Common Future. Since the publication of Our Common Future, (1) the concept of sustainable development has defined the policy options of environmentalists and industrialists, as well as those of governments, vis-à-vis the exploitation of natural resources and the political economy of production and consumption of goods. The imperative to balance economic growth/ profits and ecological protection has significantly influenced the debate of the parties.

Following the release of the WCED's report, Our Common Future, debates on the environment and its impact on the socioeconomic and political development have dominated the centre stage at various international fora. Established by the United Nations (UN) in 1983, with Gro Harlem Brundtland (the then Prime Minister of Norway) as chairman, the WCED had the following terms of reference:

WCED defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." It goes on to recognize the inevitability of contending interpretations of the concept, but nevertheless argues that these "must share certain general features and must flow from a consensus on the basic concept of sustainable development and on a broad strategic framework for achieving it." (3) Everybody agrees with the basic argument of the concept, but there seems to be no universal consensus on its meaning and implications. 

The WCED's thesis of sustainable development posits that the present generation has been reckless and wasteful in both its exploitation and use of natural resources by pursuing a series of socioeconomic and industrial policies which endanger global environmental security. Viewed as a doctrine of qualitative societal change, sustainable development underlines the perils of global environmental degradation - oil spills, deforestation, acid rain, ozone depletion, toxic waste, etc. - and calls for the institution of policies that would:

To achieve the above objectives, the WCED urged governments to pursue a new developmental strategy that can both ensure continued economic growth and ecological stability with less 

exploitation and use of natural resources. It condemned the inequities within and among nations, and called for a restructuring of contemporary economic relations to guarantee an equitable distribution of national and international wealth.

Two issues emerged as vital from the WCED's notion of sustainable development. First, nations must reorient their developmental strategies while meeting their respective human and societal "needs." Second, and more important, the consumptive patterns of the present generation must not be allowed to exhaust natural resources so that future generations can also meet their own needs. The question of equity -- intra and inter-generational, and international -- emerges as a critical element in the WCED's conceptualization of sustainable development.

Thus, the authors of Our Common Future placed on the international agenda a manifesto for social and political change that challenged the basic assumptions underlying contemporary developmental policies. By arguing that sustainable development "requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to satisfy their aspirations for a better life", the "promotion of values that encourage consumption standards that are within the bounds of the ecologically possible and to which all can reasonably aspire" and concluding that it "clearly requires economic growth in places where such needs are not being met" (4) the authors introduced a combination of contending approaches to achieving sustainable development. They produced a report which appeals to everybody but to nobody in particular. For the exponents of economic and industrial development, the notion of "sustained economic growth" becomes primary, while environmentalists underline the implied primacy of the environment in the notion of "integrating environmental considerations in economic decision-making", just as the proponents of social justice hail the call for the "redistribution of wealth in the international system."

Our Common Future  has been criticized for its lack of conceptual clarity on developmental strategy. Irrespective of the qualifier that "the international economy must speed up world growth while respecting the environmental constraints" the WCED has drawn criticism for advocating "more rapid economic growth in both industrial and developing countries." (5) In analytical terms, the WCED crafted a centrist document designed to pacify contrasting shades of opinion in the industrial and political continuum. In their critique, Franklyn Griffiths and Oran R. Young argued that it "seems less and less likely, therefore, that reformist policy prescriptions of the sort currently inspired by the concept of sustainable development will prove adequate to cope with the far-reaching problems that we now anticipate in conjunction with global changes", and concluded that "the conception of development embedded in the notion of sustainable development is fatally flawed." (6) William E. Rees, in his thought-provoking paper, "Sustainable Development: Myths and Realities", opined that the notion of "sustained economic growth" built into the concept of sustainable development renders the concept meaningless. He argued: "As sustainable development is gradually embraced by the political mainstream, its meaning drifts ever further from the ideal of sustainable development toward the seductive temptation of sustainable growth." (7)

Our Common Future  deals with two interrelated issues: environment and development, and it postulates that the non-sustainable use of one affects the quality of the other. While there is a universal consensus on the deteriorating nature of the global environment, some of the analyses of the WCED on this issue are empirically flawed. For example, when, in reference to the less developed countries (LDCs), it states that: "Poverty reduces people's capacity to use resources in a sustainable manner; it intensifies pressure on the environment" (8) the impression is conveyed that an affluent society would put less pressure on the environment. However, the WCED rejects such an impression when it recognizes that: "A child born in a country where levels of material and energy use are high places a greater burden on the Earth's resources than a child born in a poorer country." (9) Thus, we can conclude that it is not poverty per se that "places a greater burden on the Earth's resources", but a consumptive pattern nurtured by affluence. Poverty and affluence are antipodal, and there is no doubt that both have negative effects on the environment. While it is imperative for us to direct our analytical tool toward the interrelationships of those factors destroying the environment, we should not ignore the overriding impact of a given phenomenon on global environmental stability. This is true nationally as well as in the international system. In doing this, however, our concern should be focussed on bridging the gap between the two, and in the process strive to enhance the quality of the environment.

Though the criticism has a defined value vis-à-vis the inconsistent theoretical construct of  Our Common Future's sustainable development, it could be argued that the WCED did not set out to produce a rigid recommendation applicable across the globe uniformly. Again, while it could be argued that such flexibility does not aid the process of attaining a global approach on environmental control measures, it should be borne in mind that sustainable development is in fact an evolving concept whose form and content can only be determined by a series of national and global practices. A positive aspect of  Our Common Future's theoretical construct is the broad-based endorsement it receives from contending constituencies in the environment-economy divide. This has the basis to generate a national consensus on the concept of sustainable development. It also has the properties of a class struggle where the contending views of the "economists" and the "ecologists" have come to define the ideological divide in the literature. 

There are obvious grounds on which we can differ with some of the assumptions implicit in the concept of sustainable development. However, it should be perceived as a broad conceptual framework for policy actions and not a rigid dogma with universal applicability. Thus, Our Common Future is a thought-provoking document designed to guide and galvanize governments, environmentalists, social and political activists, and industries into pursuing environmentally sound policies and programmes. As a rule, however, the galvanizing aspect has exposed deep-rooted conceptual conflicts. 

It defines the fundamental constructs of sustainable development as follows:

The above principles constitute the fundamentals of sustainable development. They challenge both the ethical and technical imperatives of government policies as well as the strategic economic directions of companies. In striving for a reasonable balance between the economy and the environment, certain characteristics will be taken into account in this analysis. 

Sustainable development is like a beautiful mermaid admired by all but ill understood, due to its enchanting complexities. It magnetizes our imagination and challenges our policy innovative skills, but cannot by itself resolve our environmental problems without society's unified concerted efforts to grasp the implications of its enchanting beauty. There is a global movement towards an embrace of sustainable development, even though we are yet to agree on its meaning and implications. This is, by no means, a healthy phenomenon since it underscores our broad conceptual base in sustainable development, a base which needs to be properly harnessed as we grapple with the policy challenges of sustainable development. To attain this goal, it is vital that we have a reasoned debate on the subject, and view sustainable development as an evolving concept in a quest of a definitive viewpoint. As a contribution toward this process, I will discuss and analyse the positions of opposing schools of thought on some of the controversial aspects of sustainable development in the section on Development & Economic Growth. But before doing so, let us encounter Corporate Social Responsibility.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The concept of corporate responsibility or corporate social responsibility has acquired broad support in various international fora. In this paper, corporate responsibility will be used interchangeably with corporate social responsibility. While there is no universally accepted definition of the concept, there is however a consensus that it implies a demonstration of certain responsible behaviour on the part of governments and the business sector toward society and the environment. Three important international institutions have underlined the need for governments and companies to adhere to the principles of corporate social responsibility. These are the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSGI). We will review their policies and guidelines as representing a global consensus on the imperative of corporate social responsibility.


The WBCSD is a major driving force on the concept of corporate social responsibility. (11) Established in January 1995, the WBCSD is an association of 140 international companies drawn from more than 30 countries representing more than 20 industrial sectors. Two major international organizations - the Business Council for Sustainable Development (BCSD) and the World Industry Council for the Environment (WBCE) - merged to form the WBCSD. Its reports on corporate (social) responsibility have helped to focus global attention on the necessity for governments and business to demonstrate a degree of responsibility toward society.

The WBCSD defines corporate social responsibility as the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large.

During its internal debate on the concept of corporate social responsibility, members of the WBCSD grappled with the problems of clarity without losing the vital focus of the concept. The WBCSD sought a conceptual framework that would remain loyal to its "three fundamental and inseparable pillars" of sustainable development: the generation of economic wealth, followed by environmental improvement, and social responsibility. (12) It proposed a global strategic approach on how to define its third pillar: corporate social responsibility. According to the WBCSD, corporate social responsibility defines what a company has to do, in order for it to win and enjoy the confidence of the community as it generates economic wealth and responds to the dynamics of environmental improvement. The WBCSD posits corporate social responsibility as a vital link "to the long-term prosperity of companies as it provides the opportunity to demonstrate the human face of business..." and underscores "the value of creating practical partnerships and dialogue between business, government, and organizations." (13) The diagram below was considered to be a more appropriate reflection of the scope of the concept without the word "social," which some members of the WBCSD felt was too restrictive. Thus, the term corporate responsibility was seen as pertaining to the WBCSD "three fundamental and inseparable pillars" of sustainable development.:

Corporate responsibility, therefore, defines the global behavioral expectations of governments and corporations toward the three constituent units of sustainable development. Our concern in this paper is with the third unit: corporate social responsibility.

The WBCSD has identified the following "core values" as integral to corporate social responsibility:

Our interest is in human rights, employee rights, environmental protection, community development, and stakeholder rights. These are the core values that define the responsibilities of corporations (and governments) to the society: corporate social responsibility. Thus, what benefit or harm would a company's project bring or does to the human rights of the society, the employee rights of its workers, the environmental protection of the community, the development of the community, and the rights of the community as legitimate stakeholders

The community is respected as a stakeholder in the project. Thus, the company is compelled to construct a base for close collaboration and consultation with the community, as well as assist the community in capacity building in all aspects of social and economic development. To achieve this level of responsibility, a company must implement a transparent policy of working with the community to ensure that these core values are adhered to. It must also ensure that environmental protection is not compromised, and that any environmental risks arising from its project must beequitably distributed among all segments of the society, and must not be borne disproportionately by the poor. In its broadest terms, therefore, the concept of corporate social responsibility is inextricably linked to the notion of environmental justice. How do governments and companies resolve the "distributional inequities in the exposure to environmental risks?" (14)In their study, Harm van der Wal and Klaas Jan Moning found economic instruments to be "socially regressive" and counter productive to the concept of corporate social responsibility as "the percentage burden is greater for low income households than for higher income households." They argued that:

 Market-based instruments reduce the powerful and symbolic appeal of pollution control. As a consequence they may lead to a weakening in the public commitment to a shared environmental ethic. (15)

Corporate social responsibility is not only the expected  ethical behaviour of companies. It also defines the  self interest of companies. By investing in the core elements of corporate social responsibility, a company is also simultaneously facilitating a base conducive to the emergence of a healthy and well-educated community that would assist the company in attaining its economic growth objectives. It is a win-win strategy.


 The OECD has also been engaged in developing the concept of corporate responsibility. At its Ministerial Meeting on June 27, 2000, the OECD approved a set of Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. (16) In the  Guidelines, a set of "voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct consistent with applicable laws," the OECD stressed the need for both governments and companies to demonstrate their corporate responsibility by pursuing sound environmental and socially based policies. The Guidelines are "to ensure that the operations of these enterprises are in harmony with government policies, to strengthen the basis of mutual confidence between enterprises and the societies in which they operate,...and to enhance the contribution to sustainable development made by multinational enterprises." They challenge multinational enterprises "to implement best practice policies for sustainable development that seek to ensure coherence between social, economic and environmental objectives." (17)

The General Policies of the Guidelines (18) advise enterprises to:

 Though the  OECD Guidelines  are addressed to multinational enterprises, they also apply to domestic companies as well.

 A critical element of corporate responsibility is the need for governments and companies to incorporate all the three dimensions of sustainable development - economic, environmental, and social - in their decision making process. Most countries and companies seem to ignore or pay little attention to the social component of sustainable development. This was apparent in a recent OECD study as it advised member states to formulate and adopt a more robust and balanced approach to sustainable development that will emphasize the three dimensions. (19)


The DJSGI also identified social well-being (or corporate social responsibility) as one of its sustainability principles which companies must satisfy in order to be listed in the DJSGI. On September 08, 1999, the Dow Jones Sustainability Group Indexes (DJSGI) was launched in Zurich, Switzerland, as the first "global equity indexes that track the performance of the leading sustainability-driven companies world-wide." The DJSGI includes over "200 of the top sustainability companies in 68 industries in 22 countries. The total market capitalization of the DJSGI is 4.3 trillion USD." (20)

DJSGI Principles (21)

Sustainability Principles Components
Technology The creation, production and delivery of products and services...based on innovative technology and organization that use financial, natural and social resources in an efficient, effective and economic manner over the long-term
Governance Corporate sustainability...based on the highest standards of corporate governance including management responsibility, organizational capacity, corporate culture and stakeholder relations
Shareholders Shareholders' demands should be met by sound financial returns, long-term economic growth, long-term productivity increases, sharpened global competitiveness and contributions to intellectual capital.
Industry Sustainability companies should lead their industry's shift towards sustainability by demonstrating their commitment and publicizing their superior performance
Society Sustainability companies should encourage lasting social well being by their appropriate and timely responses to rapid social change, evolving demographics, migratory flows. Shifting cultural patterns and the need for life-long learning and continuing education


Companies qualify to be listed in the index if they satisfy the criteria of sustainability of the DJSGI. The sustainability performance of listed companies "is assessed and scored on the basis of an industry-specific questionnaire, the analysis of company policies and reports as well as stakeholder relations." Such companies must demonstrate their commitment to DJSGI sustainability principles, which are: innovative technology, corporate governance, shareholder relations, industrial leadership and social well being.

Thus, the concept of corporate social responsibility has been placed on the global agenda by leading international organizations. It should be seen as a critical challenge to environmental justice as it compels governments and industries to address the distributional inequities of environmental risks, especially in the natural resource sector of the economy.

Let us now review the twin concepts of development and economic growth. These concepts play significant role in the strategies of governments, corporations, and environmentalists, as they attempt to deal with the imperatives of sustainable development.

Development & Economic Growth


The concept of development has caused much controversy in the debate on sustainable development. What is development? And how should it be understood vis-à-vis the fundamentals of sustainable development? Simply put, development is a qualitative change in the state of a given phenomenon. It is the sum total of all socio-economic and technological indicators used to measure the advancement of society and individuals' state in the society: standard of living, life expectancy, self-regulating social institutions, industrial base, etc. 

But, how can our conception of development be related to the fundamentals of sustainable development as enunciated by the WCED?

The essence of the thesis of sustainable development is geared towards the improvement of the quality of life in all its ramifications, provided that environmentally sound policies are pursued, and adhered to by society. The question of whether it is possible to have both a high quality of life and, at the same time, a high quality of the environment, is a key issue which has generated much debate in the literature. While Ferdinard E. Banks argues that "it is theoretically possible to have a material standard as high or even higher than that being enjoyed today, without tolerating a further deterioration of the environment", (22) Griffiths and Young argue otherwise. They postulate that:

Our task is not to devise new technologies, institutions, or policies designed to allow us to produce more with less. We must discover new and affirmative meanings in life without economic or material growth. The challenge before us is one of cultural and even spiritual revolution. This, in our view, is the proper meaning of sustainable development. It carriers far beyond the oft-cited need for change in "lifestyles" and the like. (23)

The above views on the concept of development vis-à-vis sustainable development represent the contending schools of thought on the subject. Banks bases his argument on the premise that the evolving nature of technological advancement will make it possible to drastically reduce environmental damage while, at the same time, increasing society's capability to produce more goods. Griffiths and Young, on the other hand, do not feel it is "our task...to devise new technologies, ...to allow us to produce more with less." They propagate what is in effect a halt to development. This position is, unfortunately, based on the doomsday forecast which foresees a "depletion of natural resources" if the current practice of exploitation is continued. Our Common Future also raises this possibility when its authors posit:

As for non-renewable resources, like fossil fuels and minerals, their use reduces the stock available for future generations. But this does not mean that such resources should not be used. In general the rate of depletion should take into account the criticality of that resource, the availability of technologies for minimizing depletion, and the likelihood of substitutes being available. (24)

As the above argument indicates, the WCED's main position is that the use of fossil fuels and minerals "reduces the stock available for future generations." However, it cautions society against the "depletion" of natural resources, thus lending credence to the position of those who see the "inevitability" of resource "depletion." Ansley J. Coale differs from this position. He contends that "...when we think of our resources of such useful materials as the metallic elements of iron, copper, nickel, lead, and so forth, we should realize that spaceship Earth has the same amount of each element as it had a million years ago, and will have the same amount a million years from now." He continues:

The reason that the future of our resource situation always seems  so bleak and the past seems quite comfortable is that we can readily  construct a plausible sounding estimate of the future demand for a  particular raw material, but cannot form such a plausible picture  of the future supply.... What we cannot so readily foresee is the  discovery of new sources and of new techniques of extraction, and,  in particular, the substitution of other raw materials or the substitution  of other industrial processes which change the demand away from the  raw material we are considering. (25)

If development is to have any positive meaning, it is essential that its fundamental goals be the proper blending of technology and energy that will contribute to the improvement of society and the environment. After stating that the "conception of development embedded in the notion of sustainable development is fatally flawed", it is confusing to note that Griffiths and Young proceeded to propose development "without economic or material growth." While it may seem fashionable to criticize the WCED for not formulating a universally acceptable theoretical construct of development, the thesis of Griffiths and Young has not enhanced our knowledge of the subject. 

Economic Growth

Another key fundamental argument of sustainable development is built around the notion of producing "more with less" energy. How can nations increase their Gross National Product (GNP) and reduce their total energy consumption at the same time? This is a major challenge confronting all nations, including the LDCs. The search for alternative sources of energy, which is geared towards the reduction of pollution and the provision of the prerequisites for a new paradigm of development that would improve the overall standard of living of their citizens, remains a major policy challenge for governments. In his contribution to a recent study, Lee Solsbery discussed the environmental implications of growing energy consumption for OECD and non-OECD nations. (26) He argued that any gains from a continued decline in energy intensity will be rendered obsolete by "the absolute rise in global energy demand...resulting form the inertia in energy systems and the rigidities in energy infrastructure." The rate of energy consumption has severe implications for the global environmental systems. Though the use of nuclear power has contributed significantly to lower CO2 emissions in OECD countries, thus resulting in reduced reliance on energy (oil, gas, and coal) than in less developed countries, it should be noted, however, that OECD countries still consume a greater percentage of energy than less developed countries. For example, Canada, with a population of 31,006,347 "accounts for a larger share of global commercial energy consumption than India" with a population of 1,000,845,550. Furthermore, while 

North Americans consume around 1 500 kilogramme of oil equivalent (kgoe) per year just for their transportation needs, total per capita energy consumption in India is less than 25 kgoe per year. Similarly, the average OECD person in 1994 consumed 30 times the electricity than the average Indonesian consumed, despite the fact that Indonesian electricity consumption increased  by more than 20 times since 1971! (27)
A review of the forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on global energy consumption up to 2010 and beyond reveals a major policy challenge for governments and industries. According to the IEA: The above vividly illustrates the severity of the environmental challenge from the perspective of energy consumption. It also demonstrates that, in order for us to achieve the goals of sustainable development we will have to introduce and apply environmentally friendly technologies. According to Lee Solsbery, the challenge for policy in this regard "is to combine a favourable context for research, development and deployment with market-based evaluation and implementation mechanisms." (29)

Sustainable development does not mean "no development". A critical element of sustainable development deals with the institution of development alternatives that would promote the quality of the environment while satisfying our needs. It also implies a re-ordering of our needs in alignment with the capacity of the ecosystem. While it may not imply a negation of opportunities to improve our collective standard of living, it does imply that we must not exceed the bounds of the environment.

As Colin F.W.Isaacs argues "it's not the economy or the economics that we are trying to sustain, it's the environment and the economy that we are trying to sustain." (30) This is not just a semantic irritant. It compels us to tackle vital policy questions on sustainable development. Should we promote economic growth in our pursuit of sustainable development? Can we improve the environment as we pursue an economic growth policy? These are crucial questions which we have to consider as we discuss the problematic of sustainable development. Just like the concept of development, the notion of economic growth has polarized the debate on sustainable development. Economic growth is an integral part of a developmental strategy. Representatives of the two schools of thought discussed above maintain their respective positions over the role of economic growth in sustainable development. While it is the contention of one group that economic growth is essential for a successful pursuit of sustainable development, the opposing view contends that economic growth does violence to the tenets of sustainable development. 

 As indicated above, the WCED recommends "more rapid economic growth" in both developed and developing countries while "respecting the environmental constraints." The business community sees this as a vindication of "growth" while environmentalists are opposed to the idea. Simply put, it boils down to a debate between "economists" and "ecologists." In his paper, "Coming to Terms with Growth and the Environment", Walter W. Heller states that for the ecologist "an end to economic growth" is considered "an environmental imperative", while the pursuit of economic growth is viewed by the economist as "a socio-economic imperative that requires the continuation of growth as the price of social survival." The economist "views growth itself as one of the prerequisites to success in restoring the environment" (31), a position which is rejected by the ecologists. He concludes:

 Whether it is growth itself, or its particular forms, that lead to environmental trouble (and if the latter, how production and technology can be redirected into environmentally more tolerable channels). What social costs the nation would incur in giving up growth. Whether the war on pollution could, as a practical matter, be pressed and won without growth.... The shift to a no-growth state of being might  even throw the...economic system so out of kilter as to threaten its breakdown. (32)

The proponents of "limits to growth" or "zero growth" argue otherwise. They maintain that economic growth is responsible for much of the damage done to the environment. Donella H. Meadows  et. al. represent this group with their apocalyptic view of the world of economic growth:

 As resource prices rise and mines are depleted, more and more capital must be used for obtaining resources, leaving less to be invested for future growth.... Population finally decreases when the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services. (33)

 Isaacs, (34) Rees, (35) and Griffiths and Young (36) express similar views in their critique of economic growth. They all believe that a curtailment of economic growth will stop pollution but have not, on the other hand, given any thought to the consequences of a zero growth policy on the society. It is interesting to note that in  The Limits to Growth  study frequently cited by anti-economic growth theorists, the authors of the study did not include price as one of the trends they studied. The trends they studied - "accelerating industrialization, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of non renewable resources, and a deteriorating environment" - were not only empirically biassed but were presumed to operate outside of a market mechanism. In a review of this study Peter Passell,  et. al, describe it as "an empty and misleading work...which takes arbitrary assumption, shakes them up, and comes out with arbitrary conclusions that have the ring of science" and that the authors "are out to show that pollution and malnutrition cannot be attacked directly, but only by stopping economic growth." (37)

The argument that economic growth by itself leads to resource depletion remains a fundamental misconception of the proponents of "the limits to growth." This study supports the thesis that sustainable development can be sustained on the platform of combatting pollution and preventing environmental degradation, without the burden of an inexplicable futuristic notion of resource depletion supposedly caused by economic growth. William D. Nordhaus and James Tobin view it thus:

The nightmare of a day of reckoning and economic collapse when all fossil fuels are forever gone seems to be based on a failure to recognize the existing and future possibilities of substitute materials and processes. (38)

In  The Doomsday Myth: 10,000 Years of Economic Crises, Charles Maurice and Charles W. Smithson could not find any evidence to support the thesis that economic growth causes resource depletion. (39) Our policy challenge therefore, as an analyst put it, is to construct "a nationally consistent environmental policy" which implies "the integration and coordination of economic growth and stability with specific decisions on pollution." (40) Not only is this a critical element in the understanding of sustainable development, it is the cornerstone around which any national perspective on the concept can be successfully constructed.

This brings us to a vital recurring theme in the thesis of sustainable development as enunciated by the WCED: the environment-economy integration in the decision making process. A clarification of this concept is crucial in our pursuit of sustainable development so that no sector of the business community will conduct "business as usual" simply because of the agreed notion of economic growth. This is especially true in Nigeria's Niger Delta, where the multinational oil corporations and their local allies may be tempted to recklessly pursue economic growth at the expense of environmentally sound policies. Profit may still be an important factor in all business considerations, but it is no longer going to be the overriding element in setting up a business. Where a doubt exists on the implications of a proposed industrial project vis-à-vis the enhancement of ecological stability, the issue should be resolved in favour of the environment and the proposed projects be abandoned irrespective of the projected margins of profits. Thus, the concept of integration in this case is not one of a 50-50 ratio between the environment and the economy, but one in which the former retains a recognized primacy. The concept of environment-economy integration is not to "balance" the scale between the environment and the economy, but rather to ensure that the scale is significantly tilted in favour of the environment. Therefore, the challenge for Nigerian governments (federal and state) and industries is to construct and implement enduring policies that recognize the imperative of enhancing the quality of the environment. It is only within this confinement that the pursuit of economic growth should be considered by the regime regulators. Governments must intervene "to reduce the negative environmental externalities from the exploitation of natural resources." The concept of environment-economy integration must recognize the primacy of the social dimension of sustainable development. Thus, it is imperative for governments to ensure that the social benefit of natural resources exploitation is not compromised. This explains why, "in most OECD countries, mining and oil production are subject to strict controls relating to environmental discharge and land disturbance, and companies are usually required to post bonds to ensure that funds will be available to restore production sites." (41)

As we consider the merits of economic growth, it is vitally important that we pay attention to the macroeconomic questions raised by the OECD which are relevant to sustainable development and the natural resource sectors:

What economic growth rates are acceptable and possible over the long term, at national, regional and worldwide levels, under a sustainable development model? How efficiently are various types of natural resources (renewable and non-renewable) currently being exploited, and how can this be improved to ensure the desired rate of economic growth and sustainable resource development? (42)

 SPDC in the Niger Delta

We have already encountered the concepts of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The task of this section is two-fold. First, it will review the policies of Shell vis-a-vis those concepts. Second, it will assess the impact of those policies on the people and environment of the Niger Delta.

The choice of Shell as a case study for this paper is informed by the vastness of its operations in the Niger Delta. Shell (43) began its exploration for oil in Nigeria in 1937, but was granted a licence on November 4, 1939. It discovered Nigeria's first commercial oil field in 1956, at Oloibiri, Rivers State. From a modest production level of 6,000 barrels of crude oil per day (bpd) in 1958 to its current level of more than 1 million bpd, Shell is responsible for almost 50% of Nigeria's production. The company employs over 10,000 staff, including about 4,000 permanent staff. The Niger Delta is the main operating centre of Shell, where the company manages an oil mining lease area of "about 31,000 square kilometres; 6,000 kilometres of pipelines and flowlines, 87 flowstations, eight gas plants and more than 1,000 producing wells." (44)


But more fundamentally, the choice is informed by the following reasons. Shell is the only oil company engaged in Nigeria that is a member of the WBCSD. Furthermore, the company's former Chief Executive in Nigeria (1991-1994) and current Managing Director of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Mr. Phil Watts, is an executive member of the WBCSD and co-chair of the Working Group that produced the Corporate Social Responsibility Report for the WBCSD. (45) It is against this background that the activities of SPDC are situated within sustainable development and corporate social responsibility in the Niger Delta. Though Shell controls only 30% of the shares of SPDC, the company's principles of sustainable development and its corporate membership in the WBCSD determine SPDC's strategies on sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The other shareholders of SPDC are the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) 55%; Elf 10%; and Agip 5%.

Oil exploration is an energy intensive activity with severe implications on people and the environment. Shell, like most other corporations, has adopted the "three pillars of sustainable development" because it makes good business sense to do so. Shell recognizes the interrelatedness of the three dimensions of sustainable development - corporate financial responsibility, corporate environmental responsibility, and corporate social responsibility

On the environmental front, available evidence suggests that, Shell has satisfied the operating guidelines established and supervised by the Nigerian federal government's Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (FEPA). These include the execution of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for new projects as well as Environmental Evaluation Reports (EER) for ongoing operations. While the regulations and standards of Nigeria's DPR and FEPA may compare favourably with those of advanced western countries, for example, Canada and the United States, the gap is obviously in the enforcement and controls of those regulations and standards. How thorough were the alleged EIAs and EERs? How do we explain the appalling state of Shell's pipelines in the face of Nigeria's environmental regulations and standards? While Shell has invested a substantial amount in its scientific research and development, and the company has produced a standard declaration adhering to the principles of sustainable development, as well as contributing to the building of hospitals and awarding of scholarships to Niger Deltans (46), it is noteworthy that its annual rate of oil spills and the extent of its corrosive pipelines continues to define its activities in the Niger Delta. Let us review the table below. According to its data, Shell admitted that there were 815 oil spills between 1997 and 1999, out of which 170, an alarming 20.85%, were caused by its corrosive pipelines. It should be stressed that, Shell did not include the volume spilled at Ekakprmre, Delta State, in its calculation of the 1999 volume. It blamed that oil spill on "sabotage", just as it has always done in cases of massive oil spills caused by its corrosive pipelines. 


Year Number of Spills Volume Caused by Corrosion Volume
1997 254 76,000 barrels 63 11,533
1998 242 50,200 59 21,548
1999 319 23,377(*) 48 NA

 In an independent assessment of Shell's oil spill at Ogbodo, Rivers State, in June-July 2001, Terisa Turner, a world renowned authority on the political economy of oil corporations, exposed the falsity of Shell's "sabotage" thesis. She declared:  " The claim of sabotage is patently false...The oil companies have been claiming that the oil spills, the pipeline explosions were all caused by sabotage. But there is no evidence to this so far. These are just lies, distractions, shirking of responsibility on the part of the oil companies - and Shell here is the most serious culprit." (48)

Even if we accept the figures provided by Shell as "correct", we wonder if the company could justify any of the spills as contributing to the principles of sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The amount spent by Shell to promote its commitment to corporate social responsibility in the Niger Delta is grossly insignificant when compared to the huge environmental risks its operations continue to cause to the people and ecosystem of the Niger Delta. As the largest oil company engaged in the Niger Delta, Shell is responsible for more than 60% of the gas flaring, a practice which destroys the ozone layer and cause irreparable damage to the ecosystem. According to Terisa Turner, "it is criminally negligent of Shell, Texaco, Agip, Elf, and the other oil companies...hand in hand with NNPC, to be flaring natural gas and on this massive scale." (49) The involvement of the federal government in this environmentally destructive practice, through its crown corporation, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), is a testimony of its policy on the safety and security of Niger Deltans in particular and of Nigerians in general.

Since the WCED gave global currency to the concept of sustainable development, the international business sector has systematically courted sustainable development. The first round of this incongruous courtship manifested itself in the business sector's preference for sustainable economic development as the primary determinant of sustainable development, by relating to environmental development as an afterthought. By enunciating corporate social responsibility, the international business sector aspires "to demonstrate the human face of business" as its stratagem to mollify the citizens in countries' of its operations. Notwithstanding its "human face" of business policy, Shell has not been able to meaningfully address the environmental challenges of sustainable development. Like other corporations, Shell has appropriated sustainable development without being able to avoid a collision with environmentalists and environmental imperatives.

Policy Implications

In a 1999 study, the OECD succinctly situated the issues of economic growth and sustainable development when it asked if the earth's ecosystem can "sustain the high pressure on natural resources that would result if all countries were to adopt lifestyles similar to those prevailing in most OECD countries." According to the OECD, the response to this question "depends in part on the resource management decisions in OECD countries...." (50) As is well known, most OECD countries have been very reckless and wasteful in their consumptive patterns of natural resources. This vital question was the central thesis of a seminal work by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins. In their  Natural Capitalism they challenge the current concept of industrial capitalism which they describe as wasteful and non-sustainable. For example, the United States, they argue, "still gets three-fifths of its aluminum from virgin ore, at twenty times the energy intensity of recycled aluminum, and throws away enough aluminum to replace its entire commercial aircraft fleet every three months." (51) To further illustrate this point of negative use of our natural capitalism, they argued: "For all the world to live as an American or Canadian, we would need two more earths to satisfy everyone, three more still if population should double, and twelve earths altogether if worldwide standards of living should double over the next fifty years." (52)

This is a fundamental policy challenge for Nigeria's Niger Delta, as it is for the Nigerian federal government. It requires both policy reorientation and strategic thinking to construct a consensual basis that will ensure that citizens and corporations fully understand the concept and implications of sustainable development, while grappling with the dynamics of economic growth. Growth will have to be measured and deliberate, and not arbitrary as is the current policy of governments and (oil) corporations in the Niger Delta. The value of economic growth in the context of sustainable development will depend on our capability to produce, for example, an environmentally friendly alternative source of energy to petroleum. While "there is considerable scope for substitution among resources" the main issue "is not whether a particular natural resource will be available indefinitely, but whether human ingenuity can keep combining man-made, natural and human capital in ways that enable" us to meet the needs of society. (53)

In crafting a response to the challenges of sustainable development, policy analysts and decision makers are increasingly confronted with the imperative of environmental justice. The approach of Niger Delta governments needs to address the fundamental question of how to balance the inequities of sustainability. The inherent linkage between a government's environmental agenda and its economic agenda should define the content and strategic approach of its policy on sustainable development. While the objective of such a policy will be to enhance the  development  of the society, without compromising the integrity of the environment, it must demonstrate an inbuilt and well defined mechanism on how to balance social, economic and environmental considerations. The success of such a policy depends on the significant considerations given to the social elements of sustainable development. Therefore, how do we resolve the "distributional inequities in the exposure to environmental risks" (54), in an integrative approach to sustainable development? This is a vital question which begs for government's intervention. To do so would require concrete policy actions to correspond with government's declaratory principles on sustainable development. It is dangerous for government policy to lay more emphasis on the economic dimension, and less on the social dimension of sustainable development. What is required is for Niger Delta governments to formulate and adopt a more robust and balanced approach to sustainable development. (55)


 It is quite obvious to any observer that Niger Deltans residing in the areas of oil exploration bear a significantly higher exposure to environmental risks than, say, residents of Kaduna who enjoy much higher benefit from the exploits of oil exploration without incurring any environmental risks arising from such exploration. Furthermore, the entire Niger Delta region has become an environmental disaster, a "dead land", to borrow a phrase from Terisa Turner, due to the activities of oil companies, led by Shell, while other states of the federation enjoy the benefits of those activities without an understanding and/or appreciation of the impacts of oil spillages and environmental degradation caused by improper exploitation. Fishery and agriculture have been rendered obsolete as a result of environmental degradation caused by oil exploration in the Niger Delta. If we accept the premise that, the fundamental function of a government is to provide for the safety and security of its citizens, we are baffled as to the whereabouts of Nigeria's federal government on this issue. Every other functions - economic prosperity, etc. - derive from this fundamental function. Thus, any activity of government that fails the test of enhancing the safety and security of its citizens is inimical to the principles of good governance. Not only have oil exploration and exploitation ruined the economic base (fishery and agriculture) of Niger Deltans, it has grossly endangered their safety and security in such a way that, any future recovery becomes a matter of doubtful conjecture.

 The bottom line for any corporation, including Shell, is economic gain. Driven by this imperative, the Nigerian federal government, which is a majority shareholder in SPDC, has neglected the safety and security of Niger Deltans while milking the region to finance its economic, industrial and political programmes. By its actions, it would appear that the only concern of the Nigerian federal government is to ensure the continued flow of oil which accounts for more than 90% of its revenue. Therefore, it has adopted positions injurious to Niger Delta, but supportive to Shell and the other oil companies in the Niger Delta. Witness the federal government's military invasion and wanton destruction of Odi Town, Bayelsa State, in November 1999, (56) and its attitude to the series of petroleum oil disasters that have engulfed the Niger Delta since 1998. (57) The government's sanctioned execution by hanging of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight of his Ogoni colleagues on November 10, 1995, was designed to silent the opposition of the Ogoni people and other Niger Deltans to the atrocities of the oil companies to which the Nigerian federal government is allied. Thousands of poor peasants and innocent Niger Deltans have been killed in a series of oil fire disasters in Idjerhe, Ekakpamre, Amukpe, Egborode, and Elume caused by the corrosive pipelines of Shell and the other oil companies. Where is justice? Where is environmental justice?

Let us revisit the 7 fundamentals of sustainable development enunciated by the WCED. These are:

 The Nigerian government has proved very inept at providing an effective political leadership for the successful implementation of any of these fundamentals. Encouraged by this ineptitude, Shell and the entire business sector have disregarded the imperatives of fundamentals 4 and 5. While the Nigerian government and the business sector embraced sustainable development, they had reduced the key elements of the concept to economic gains, thus caring less for the viability of the environment and the well-being of the population.

 Successive Nigerian governments have neglected their fundamental function of providing for the safety and security of Niger Deltans, and of Nigerians in general. This has increased the crisis in the Niger Delta, and gave credence to the demand for a restructured federalism. A restructured federalism where each federating unit will decide on which power to concede to the federal government. The states of the Niger Delta, and the other states in southern Nigeria, are demanding for states' exclusive jurisdiction over natural resources (oil, gas, mining, coal, agriculture, and forestry). If the federal government and the northern states fail to adhere to this minimalist demand, the continued existence of the Nigerian federation becomes highly questionable. While it is conceded that, a restructured federalism per se will not lead to any significant improvement of the environment, however, the push for restructured federalism could be framed as a component of a pro environmental policy. Thus, an alliance between the proponents of restructured federalism and environmentalists in the Niger Delta could be constructed as a viable alternative to the present anti-environmental posture of government and the business sector in the region.

The citizens of Alaska, U.S.A., are still experiencing the negative effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spillage that occurred on March 24, 1989. More than 25 species were destroyed by the accident, which also severely affected the livelihood of the residents who depend on the fish, and animals. About 11 million gallons of crude oil were spilled by the Exxon Valdez, and it is estimated that Exxon has paid "anything from US$4 billion to over US$9 billion" (59) in clean up and liability fees.

 What is the corporate liability for Shell, or any other oil company for their oil spills and corrosive pipelines in the Niger Delta? What is the corporate liability for the NNPC as the majority shareholder in the SPDC? What is the corporate liability for the Nigerian federal government that owns the NNPC? These are some key questions that must be addressed. The outcome of the Exxon Valdez oil spill should serve as an example for Niger Deltans in dealing with Shell and the SPDC. The continued use of corrosive pipelines by Shell suggests a criminal act for which the company should be held liable. While the company is quick to accuse "sabotage" in its vast oil spills, it has failed to address the technological defects of its equipment exemplified by its corrosive pipelines. This leads observers to question the role of the Nigerian federal government in ensuring the compliance by Shell, and the other oil companies, of its environmental standards and regulations.

 The Niger Delta has one of the largest known reserves of oil in the world. This vast treasure of wealth could be destroyed forever if the current practice of oil exploration and exploitation is allowed to continue. It is therefore essential that, the governments of the Niger Delta construct a coordinated policy framework on sustainable development with recognized primacy to the protection of the environment. They must seize the initiative, and not wait for the federal government. A starting point would be the enactment of environmental regulations to which all companies exploring for oil in the Niger Delta must comply. Niger Deltans must be prepared to test and exercise their jurisdictions in the field.


1.  The World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future , London, 1987.

2.  ibid ., p.ix.

3.  ibid ., p.43.

4.  ibid ., p. 44.

5. ibid., 89.

6. Franklyn Griffiths and Oran R. Young,  Sustainable Development and the Arctic: Impressions of the Co-Chairs, Working Group on Arctic International Relations, Second Session, Ilulissat and Nuuk, Greenland, 20-24 April l989, p.9.

7. William E. Rees, "Sustainable Development: Myths and Realities",  The Proceedings of A Conference on Sustainable Development. Environment and Economy: Partners for the Future, Winnipeg, Manitoba, May 17-19, 1989, p.126. See also Colin F. W. Isaacs, "Sustainable Development: The Public's Perspective",  ibid .,

 pp. 21-25.

8.  Our Common Future, 49.

9.  ibid., 55-56.

10.  ibid ., 65.

11. See World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Meeting Changing Expectations: Corporate Social Responsibility, Geneva, Switzerland, March 1999;  Corporate Social Responsibility: Making Good Business Sense, Geneva, Switzerland, January 2000.

12. See WBCSD,  Corporate Social Responsibility: Making Good Business Sense .

13.  Ibid., p.6.

14. See Harm van der Wal and Klass Jan Moning, "Environmental Policy and the Social Dimensions of Sustainable Development", in OECD Seminar Social and Environmental Interface. Proceedings. 22-24 September 1999, Paris, 1999, p.19; Barry E. Hill, "Environmental Justice in the United States". In  ibid ., pp. 27-34. Note p.29 for a definition of environmental justice. The United States established an Office of Environmental Justice in November 1992 to ensure that "low income populations receive protection under environmental laws." (P.33).

15. Wal and Moning,  loc,cit ., p.20.

16. See,  The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Paris, June 27, 2000.

17.  ibid., pp. 1-2.

18.  ibid ., p.4.

19. See,  Sustainable Development: A Renewed Effort by the OECD , OECD Policy Brief no 8, 1998, Paris, 1998, pp.1-8.

20. See  Press Release, Dow Jones Sustainability Group Index, Zurich, September 8, 1999, p.1.

21.  ibid ., p.6.

22. Ferdinand E. Banks,  Scarcity, Energy, and Economic Progress, Lexington, Mass.; 1973, p.7.

23. Griffiths and Young,  op.cit ., p. 9.

24.   Our Common Future , pp. 45-46.

25. Ansley J. Coale, "Man and His Environment", in Alain C. Enthoven and A. Myrick Freeman III, ed.,  Pollution, Resources, and the Environment, New York, 1973, pp. 155-156.

26. See, Lee Solsbery, "Energy Challenges And Opportunities For Action", in  Sustainable Development: OECD Policy Approaches for the 21st Centur, OECD, Paris, 1997, pp.89-99.

27.  ibid ., pp.90-91.

28. ibid ., p.90.

29. ibid., p.95.

30.  Ibid., p. 23.

31. Walter W. Heller, "Coming to Terms with Growth and the Environment", in Enthoven and Freeman III,  op. cit ., p. 187.

32.  Ibid ., pp. 190-191.

33. Donella H. Meadows, Dennis Meadows,  et. al ., "The Limits to Growth", in Enthoven and Freeman III,  op. cit., p. 218.

34. Isaacs,  loc. cit .

35. Rees,  loc. cit.

36. Griffiths and Young,  op. cit .

37. Peter Passell, Marc J. Roberts and Leonard Ross, "The Limits to Growth: A Review", in Enthoven and Freeman III,  op. cit ., pp. 230 and 232.

38. William D.Nordhaus and James Tobin, "Is Growth Obsolete?", in Enthoven and Freeman III, p. 210.

39. Charles Maurice and Charles W. Smithson, The Doomsday Myth: 10,000 Years of Economic Crises, Stanford, CA., 1984,  passim.

40. Ralph C. D'Arge, "Essay on Economic Growth and Environmental Quality", in Peter Bohm and Allen V. Kneese, ed.,  The Economics of Environment: Papers From Four Nations, London, 1971, p. 38.

41.  The Interim Report on the OECD Three-Year Project on Sustainable Development, Paris, May 1999, p.61.

42. OECD, The Economics of Sustainable Development: A Progress Report, Paris, May 1990, p. 19.

43. Originally known as Shell D'Arcy, later Shell-BP, jointly financed by the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies and the British Petroleum.

44. SPDC,  2000 HIGHLIGHTS, npd, p.5. See also, SPDC: Factfile, http//www.shellnigeria.com/shell/factfile_rhs.asp

45. See, Phil Watts,  Big Issues For Business - a personal perspective, ICC Sweden AGM, Stockholm, March 31, 2000.

46. See,  How do we stand? People, Planet & Profits: THE SHELL REPORT 2000 , and 2000 Highlights.

47. Extracted from  http://www.shellnigeria.com/1info/env_1998envreport_t.htm; and http://www.shellnigeria.com/frame.asp?Page=1999EnvRep

48. Terisa E. Turner,'Oil Companies Lie, Deceive, Play Ethnic Card to Divide Host Communities,' http://waado.org/Environment/OilCompanies/States/Rivers/OgbuduSpill/TerisaTurner_Interview.html

49.  ibid . Italics added.

50.  The Interim Report on the OECD Three-Year Project on sustainable Development , 1999, p.53.

51. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution , New York, 1999, p.50.

52.  ibid., p.51.

53. ibid., p.56.

54. Harm van der Wal and Klaas Jan Moning, "Environmental Policy and the Social Dimension of Sustainable Development", p. 19.

55. See  Sustainable Development: A Renewed Effort by the OECD, OECD Policy Brief no. 8, 1998, Paris, 1998, pp. 1-8.

56. See, http://www.waado.org/Environment/FedGovt_NigerDelta/BayelsaInvasion/EntryToDocumentation/Entry.html

57. See,  http://www.waado.org/UrhoboHistory/FireDisasters/FireDisasters.html

58.  Our Common Future, p.65.

59. See,  http://www.marisec.org/ics/issues/exonvald.htm