One of Switzerland’s largest supermarket chains, Migros, announced in 2013 that they would implement Western Sahara labels from 2014 onwards. A decision that has now been put into action.
The photo below was recently taken at a Migros supermarket. Notice how the melon still has a sticker from the Moroccan producer, saying "Mûri au soleil du Maroc" or "ripened in the sun of Morocco". Migros has seen through the smokescreen that Morocco wishes to uphold, and has put "Westsahara" or "Western Sahara" on its own label.
Migros imports melons from the French-Moroccan conglomerate Idyl. That company owns plantations in Morocco proper, but also in Dakhla – a town in the south of Western Sahara; a territory that Morocco invaded in 1975 and has partially occupied ever since. The United Nations classify Western Sahara as Africa's last colony.
Over the last decade, agro-business has been booming in the Dakhla area. The plantations and greenhouses are however owned by powerful Moroccans, French business interests or even the King of Morocco, not by Saharawis – the people of Western Sahara. They hardly even get job opportunities at these farms, as the owners prefer to hire seasonal workers from Morocco.
When Migros found out that the melons they bought from Idyl did not come from Morocco, but from Western Sahara, they did not decide to end the imports, but rather to provide their customers with full information about the origin of the product through correct labelling.
"Migros is still not showing much respect for the rights of the Saharawis; they still choose to pay Moroccan-French business interests for produce grown on occupied land. But at least the grocery chain has the basic decency of informing their customers about the origins of the fruit, allowing them to make informed decisions", says Sara Eyckmans from Western Sahara Resource Watch.
According to the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Switzerland imported 30 million Swiss Francs of fruits and vegetables from Morocco in 2012. The lion's share of these imports were tomatoes.
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.
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