Twelve politicians, from Norway, New Zealand and Japan, and two from the UK – David Drew (Lab, Stroud) and John Grogan (Lab, Selby) – have signed a letter to international shipping company Gearbulk, which has its global headquarters in Weybridge.
They have called on the company, which operates the world’s largest fleet of open-hatch gantry craned vessels, to cease its transportation of phosphates from the Western Sahara.
The News & Mail has obtained a copy of the letter, which claims that Gearbulk profits from the Moroccan occupation of the region.
The Western Sahara, in north Africa, is roughly the size of New Zealand and was invaded by Morocco in 1975. Indigenous Saharawis fought for independence until a UN-backed settlement in 1991 promised them a referendum on self-determination.
Originally planned for in 1992, it has not yet been held, and Morocco has military control over 80% of the territory, including the phosphate mines at Boucraa.
In late June, Gearbulk’s Bermudan-registered Bulk Saturn vessel left New Zealand waters, having transported phosphates there from the occupied Western Sahara.
“Gearbulk is collaborating with an illegal occupier, thus increasing the risk of further armed conflict, destabilisation and suffering in Western Sahara,” said the letter, addressed to chairman Kristian Jebsen.
Yara, the world’s biggest fertiliser company, terminated such imports to Norway two years ago – for ethical reasons – and the letter called for similar action.
“We appeal to Gearbulk to demonstrate its attachment to international legality, human rights and basic standards of corporate social responsibility by reconsidering its involvement in shipping phosphate of Western Sahara origin,” it said.
“We urge Gearbulk to make a statement as quickly as possible, making it clear that the company no longer intends to ship phosphates from the occupied Western Sahara.”
Approximately 165,000 Saharawis have lived in refugee camps in the Algerian desert for more than 30 years, and, according to the letter, had been deprived of their right to a “free, fair and transparent referendum”.
“The occupation of Western Sahara has resulted in enormous suffering and deprivation of the Saharawi people, the rightful owners of the land and the natural resources of Western Sahara,” said the politicians.
“As far as we can establish, your company has not consulted with the Saharawi people or their representatives,” said the letter, which called into question the legality of the contract.”
However, the political and ethical implications were more important than the legal ones, they said, and the fact remained that Gearbulk was collaborating with Morocco, “an illegal occupier”.
Negotiations are under way between the Polisario Front and Morocco in an attempt to resolve the future of the disputed territory.
But the 12 parliamentarians said the “continuation of phosphate shipments makes Morocco less inclined to negotiate seriously, and makes delaying tactics and attempting to profit from the existing situation (despite the suffering of the Saharawis this entails) more attractive”.
The politicians said the phosphate trade increased the “risk of further armed conflict, destabilisation and suffering”, and undermined the United Nations’ work, as well as lending legitimacy to the Moroccan occupation, and called for an end to Gearbulk’s phosphate shipping from the Western Sahara.
A spokesman for Gearbulk said Mr Jebson was the only person in the entire company who could talk to us, but that he was unavailable.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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