|Oil company Shell has been operating in the Niger Delta, Nigeria, for more than 50 years [GALLO/GETTY]
Environmental groups have accused oil giant Shell of abusing human rights and the environment in the Niger Delta at a Dutch parliamentary hearing.
Amnesty International and environmental NGOs have accused the Anglo-Dutch company of failing to clean up oil spills and continuing the hazardous practice of flaring gas from around 100 wells in the region.
"When will you stop treating people in Nigeria differently than you treat people in the Netherlands? When will you stop applying double standards?" Geert Ritsema of the NGO Milieudefensie, a branch of Friends of the Earth, asked Shell at the hearing in The Hague, the Netherlands, on Wednesday.
The groups are urging Dutch MPs to challenge the oil giant on its actions.
"We would like the government of the Netherlands to require Shell to disclose data, to disclose evidence to support the statements it makes," Audrey Gaughran, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International, said.
Executives of Shell said the company applied "global standards" to its operations around the world, but added that sabotage and ineffective government prevents it from cleaning up environmental disasters in Nigeria.
Ian Craig, Shell's sub-Saharan Africa executive vice-president, admitted that flares had not been reduced sufficiently, but blamed "security issues" hampering access to the affected areas.
"Security has impacted our ability to maintain pipelines. If you cannot secure people's safety, they cannot do work on the pipelines," he said.
But he said Shell payment for damage from exploded pipelines would provide a "perverse incentive" for more violence in the area, and said the company already compensates residents for pollution caused by oil spills.
Ritsema urged Dutch MPs to ensure that Shell uses "its considerable profits from Nigeria to maintain the pipelines in a much better state than they are now, to secure the pipelines to prevent sabotage, to stop oil flares".
Sunny Ofehe Hope, for the Niger Delta Campaign, said 50 years of Shell's presence in Nigeria had culminated in "a revolution that has galvanised the youth to take up arms against the same oil companies that made promises to us but couldn't deliver.
"We have seen our environment destroyed by the oil companies trying to make profit. What we have today in the Niger Delta are swamps, polluted. Our major occupation, fishing and farming, has been taken away from us," Ofehe said.
Nigeria, the world's eighth largest oil exporter, recorded at least 3,000 oil spills between 2006 and June last year, John Odey, its environment minister, has said.
Shell, which discovered oil in the Niger Delta in 1956, has been the dominant oil company in the former British protectorate.
It has been condemned by both environmentalists and community activists over pollution and the extreme poverty and poor standard of living in the region.
Wednesday's hearings with the Dutch parliament are part of what it called a "fact-finding session" to address Shell's work in Nigeria, following concern over the company's operations in the area.