Occupied Western Sahara possesses one of the world’s largest phosphate deposits and perhaps the coastline in Africa with the richest fishing grounds. In addition, chances are that there are considerable reserves of oil and gas along the coast. The valuable natural resources have always been a major driving force behind Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.
Morocco’s illegal endeavours have received solid backing from international commerce. It is very problematic - ethically, politically as well as legally - when commercial interests cooperate with Moroccan authorities in order to do business in the occupied territories. The companies involved claim that their contribution is intended to provide a positive economic development in Morocco. However, this is distorted truth. First of all, Western Sahara is not a part of Morocco. The “development” is, however, an active contribution in support of Morocco’s illegal claim to the neighbouring country.
A number of international companies are today political actors that reap profits from the conflict. While Morocco finances the occupation by usurping the country’s resources, most of the Sahrawis are forced to live in refugee camps in the Algerian dessert, in poverty and miserable conditions and not being allowed any benefits resulting from the profitable commercial activities in their homeland.
The companies active in Western Sahara generate employment for illegal Moroccan settlers in the fishing industry, both through direct investment, and by exporting fishing products to countries abroad.
This type of activity undermines the wishes and interests of the majority of the Sahrawi population, and is therefore also in violation of international law. A large number of UN resolutions and international conventions define such activity as illegal. Please refer to summary of the UN opinion here.
Since its start-up in 2005, the Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) has actively discouraged international companies from starting business in Western Sahara.
The WSRW network has been active in coordinating international campaigns against companies like TGS-Nopec (Norway), Fugro (Holland), Thor Offshore (Denmark),Wessex Exploration (UK), and Total (France). These companies have now left Western Sahara.
In June 2005, the Norwegian Governmental Pension Fund for the first time sold all its stocks in a company, due to business ethics. At that point 337 millions NOK was divested from American multinational Kerr-McGee, due to its activities in Western Sahara. This decision was made after a formal complaint from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
When divestiture totaled nearly € 70 million, Kerr-McGee finally withdrew from Western Sahara. Since then, a dozen companies have withdrawn from Western Sahara after pressure from Western Sahara Resource Watch. One of them is the Norwegian fertiliser company Yara which announced that the company no longer intends to import goods from Western Sahara. Also a number of shipping companies have announced their intention to not transport goods from occupied Western Sahara.
Morocco, looking for new ventures in addition to fish, phosphate and oil/gas, is now investigating other minerals in the occupied territory, such as diamond-like zirconium, and uranium.
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.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the three different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
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.
At COP22, beware of what you read about Morocco’s renewable energy efforts. An increasing part of the projects take place in the occupied territory of Western Sahara and is used for mineral plunder, new WSRW report documents.