Four Nigerian villagers taking a stand against Royal Dutch Shell over the alleged pollution of their homelands may end up paving the way for all plaintiffs suing multinational corporations.

The villagers, along with Friends of the Earth, a campaign group, claim that the oil giant polluted the land and water in the Niger Delta. However, they took their case to civil court in The Hague, Netherlands, site of Shell’s global headquarters. This is the first time that a Dutch company has been sued in Dutch court over a foreign subsidiary’s alleged actions.

Thomson Reuters reports that, if the case is successful, more plaintiffs could seek relief from multinationals by suing in their home countries.

“It opens up a range of possibilities for people from poor countries to use the legal system to seek compensation from companies,” Geert Ritsema, international affairs coordinator at Friends of the Earth, told Thomson Reuters.

Shell claims that the oil leaks were caused by sabotage—thieves who break into pipelines looking to steal oil, and says it has already played its part in cleaning up the area.


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