The Story: Brother Anthony Kote-Witah
I was born in the Ogonilands in the Niger Delta, an oil-rich region of Nigeria laid waste by the multinational oil company Royal Dutch Shell. Corporate Accountability Lab supports communities like mine in our pursuit of justice, and deters corporate abuse before it starts.
Before Shell came to the Ogonilands, there was abundance in our land. My favorite time of year was the yam festival. Much like the American Thanksgiving, it was a time to share our food with our neighbors, a time to feast and dance and celebrate. My people had survived for generations living off land that was ours since before Nigeria existed.
Shell came to the Ogonilands in 1958, and devastated our territory. As a result of repeated, unremediated oil spills spanning over 40 years, our children still drink contaminated water and eat contaminated fish and our crops continue to fail because the land is poisoned. Too many starve and too many die young. Even our traditions, like the yam festival, have been irrevocably changed due to scarcity.
We organized a movement to resist Shell, and our leaders were persecuted and killed. As a result of my own activism, the Nigerian armed forces, heavily armed with sophisticated weaponry, invaded my village looking for me and other activists. They tortured, killed, destroyed properties, and set fire to our homes in the middle of the night, and forced myself and others to flee.
A group of Ogoni survivors and I sued Shell in the United States to obtain reparations for some of their crimes. In a landmark decision, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, the US Supreme Court not only rejected our claims, but set a new rule depriving US courts of jurisdiction to hear similar claims by overseas human rights victims. Neither the severity of the crimes nor Shell’s culpability were addressed--the decision was based simply on the fact that the crimes occurred outside of the US.
This decision has left my community and countless others with no place to turn. Since the Nigerian government collaborated with Shell to destroy our land and violate our rights, Nigerian courts are incapable of bringing us justice. When governments are incapable of protecting their people, where can the injured go? We need a place to seek justice--free of corruption and political influence.
This is why the work of Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL) is so essential. CAL is dedicated to developing new legal strategies to ensure corporate accountability in the US. They are applying many areas of law that corporations use against one another, such as contract, international trade, and intellectual property law to guarantee the protection of human rights around the world. You can learn more about CAL’s work and their current projects at www.legaldesign.org.
My name is Anthony Kote-Witah and I am a survivor of one of the world’s most notorious corporate atrocities. CAL offers great hope to my community and others like me. Join me in supporting them.
Brother Anthony Kote-Witah, OFM Cap
Hi, we’re Corporate Accountability Lab and we have a crazy idea--we think corporations should be held responsible for what happens in their supply chains. We focus on devising strategies that utilize unexpected areas of law (like intellectual property, contract and trade law) to stop corporate abuse--strategies that have traditionally been neglected in human rights litigation, but hold vast potential to curb corporate greed.
As we reflect on our first year in operation, we find much to be grateful for. In this short time, we have not only established a terrific board of directors and an impressive group of subject matter advisors, obtained our 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and completed much of the other necessary and time-consuming work of setting up a new organization, we have made extraordinary progress on our substantive work as a lab. This year, we have:
- Worked to combat child labor in West Africa: CAL developed a new strategy to use international trade law to stop the use of forced child labor in the West African cocoa industry (keep your eyes peeled for a test case in 2018);
- Created a plan to make corporate codes of conduct enforceable: CAL researched a new legal mechanism to make corporate codes of conduct legally enforceable, allowing sweatshop workers to sue US retailers in US courts for the abuses they suffered (watch for a test case in 2018);
- Empowered intellectual property creators: CAL created a license that allows software developers and artists to condition the use of their intellectual property on compliance with basic human rights and environmental norms;
- Supported the Ogoni Community: CAL interviewed 14 members of the Nigerian Ogoni tribe living in the US, as a part of an ongoing collaboration to explore legal and other remedies for the harms they suffered due to Shell’s oil exploration on their land; and
- Promoted our new ideas by hosting a litigation strategy symposium in Washington D.C., with the support of the Harvard Human Rights Clinic and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, attending conferences, and through speaking engagements at Georgetown Law and Northwestern University.
If this was year one, imagine what year two could hold! We are so thankful for the enthusiastic support of our friends, family, the human rights community, and all of you, and we look forward to working together in the coming year for a safer, cleaner, and more just world.