This Thursday will see the coming of ‘Shell Hell Day’, part of Cambridge University Amnesty International’s campaign to end Royal Dutch Shell’s pollution of the Niger Delta and the use the use of gas flaring in the region.
Protesters donned white jump suits and gathered outside the Senate House, calling for Shell to “clean up their act”.
Luke Fernandes, a first-year at Christ’s, said: “The damage Shell causes to the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta through gas flaring is heinous. Even though it was prohibited in 1984, Shell still goes unprosecuted. There are alternatives to gas flaring.”
According to the ‘Shell Hell Campaign’ Facebook group, which has over 300 members, the UK-based petroleum company “makes millions of dollars while polluting eco-systems”.
Gas flaring and oil pollution are cited as the main culprits of environmental and human damage. Catherine Lough, one of the organisers of the protest, stated that 30,000 tonnes of oil is spilt every year over the delta.
Hannah Perry, CU Amnesty Chair and protest organiser, said: “Oil pollution severely affects local communities who depend so strongly on clean rivers for fishing and unpolluted land for farming in order support their families.”
Sarah Bornwick, Amnesty Representative for Churchill College, condemned the company’s disregard for human rights: “people are living in squalor… and there are no resources to help them.”
The protest was supported by Dr Julian Huppert, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Cambridge and a fellow of Clare College. The Trinity graduate who introduced Model United Nations in Cambridge has maintained a lifelong interest in international affairs and human rights.
He described his visit to Nigeria: “I’ve been out there, I’ve seen for myself the bright, smoky jets of waste gas. The levels of pollution this produces are really affecting the people.”
Students were quick to comment on the possible influence of a Cambridge campaign. “Many colleges have investments in Shell, and the company often employs Cambridge graduates – for example, engineers from Churchill”, noted Sarina, CU Amnesty Treasurer. Fernandes added, “Our aim is for the colleges to affect direct pressures on Shell.”
Briony Hopkinsaw, CUSU Socially Responsible Investment Officer, agrees. She notes that a recent survey of the investments of Cambridge colleges revealed that 13 of the colleges are shareholders in the company, a stance she finds hypocritical, adding: “The University and colleges [should] implement policies which uphold their commitment to education and human rights”.
The CU Amnesty group is hopeful for the future. “Cambridge’s voice is not alone”, said Perry. “Amnesty divisions around the world are pushing for change. We are part of a massive movement.”
Huppert remarked on the potential impact of graduates who were willing to consider the environmental and moral implications of their jobs. He added: “Maybe some of the Cambridge graduates who go on to work for companies like Shell will actually try and fix these problems.”
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