Britain's High Court will begin hearing lawsuits filed by a group of Nigerian farmers and fisherman alleging that decades of oil spills have fouled the water of the Niger River Delta, where a Shell subsidiary has operated since the 1950s.

The claims were brought Tuesday by two communities located in Ogoniland, part of the oil-rich southern Niger River Delta. They argue Shell, incorporated in the U.K., is responsible for the actions of its Nigerian subsidiary, Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd., or SPDC.

They brought their fight to London because they say the Nigerian courts are too corrupt to hear their claims.

SPDC, the operator of a joint venture between the Nigerian government, Shell and two other oil companies, said it will challenge the jurisdiction of the U.K. courts.