Shell has been blamed for oil spills in the Niger Delta. Photo: Getty Images
A Dutch judge has ruled that a court in the Netherlands should hear a case against Royal Dutch Shell brought by four Nigerian farmers.
The farmers and fishermen want Shell to clean up oil spills in four villages in the Niger Delta and pay compensation.
The latest ruling overturns a decision that was made two years ago by a lower court.
The oil giant said it was disappointed with decision made by appeals court judge Hans van der Klooster.
He ruled that Dutch courts had jurisdiction in the case against Shell and its Nigerian subsidiary.
The court in The Hague will hear the case in March to determine whether Shell is responsible for the Nigerian spills.
In January 2013, a lower court rejected the farmers' case, saying that Shell could not be held responsible for the pollution in the impoverished region.
However, judges had ruled that Shell's Nigerian subsidiary was partly responsible and ordered it to pay compensation in one claim, but not in the three other claims.
On Friday, Mr van der Klooster agreed with the Nigerian farmers' appeal. "All appeals by Shell are rejected," he said.
The judge also ordered the company to hand over documents that could show its failure to properly maintain oil pipelines and prevent sabotage.
Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer and the world's 13th largest, pumping out more than 2.4 million barrels a day.
Shell's Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, said: "We believe allegations concerning Nigerian plaintiffs in dispute with a Nigerian company, over issues which took place within Nigeria, should be heard in Nigeria."
Shell has always blamed the leakages on sabotage, which under Nigerian law would mean it did not have to pay compensation.
The Dutch court said on Friday it could not be assumed that the oil leaks were caused by sabotage.
Friends of the Earth Netherlands, which has helped the farmers bring their legal action, said: "The ruling is unique and can pave the way for victims of environmental pollution and human rights abuses worldwide to turn to the Netherlands for legal redress when a Dutch company is involved."
Shares in Shell rose 1%, or 14p, to £14.64 in London in late trading.