MW Brands seals deal to sell sardines from occupied Western Sahara
Canned fish brands such as John West and Parmentier will soon sell fish from occupied Western Sahara. The owner of the brands, MW Brands, has begun a partnership with Oceamic Laayoune, a sardine cannery in the occupied territory.
Paris-based MW Brands, home to the European tuna brands John West, Petit Navire, Parmentier and Mareblu, had up until recently been buying sardines from Moroccan providers to be processed in its factory based in Peniche, Portugal.
However, several months ago, MW Brands sealed a deal with Oceamic - a sardine cannery that is based in El Aaiun, located in the parts of Western Sahara that Morocco invaded in 1975, and holds under brutal military occupation until this very day. In blatant violation of international law, Morocco is selling off Western Sahara's ample resources, including its fish stocks. The Saharawis, the original inhabitants of Western Sahara and rightful owners of the territory's resources, have been relayed to the fringes of society, suffering social and economic exclusion, while Moroccan nationals run the illegal economy in the occupied territory.
Oceamic is owned by Sarma Food, also based in El Aaiun. Both Oceamic and Sarma Food are owned and managed by Moroccans, not Saharawis. The companies mainly employ Moroccan settlers. They take in fish from the Moroccan fleet and fishermen that operate in the waters of the country that the Moroccan government illegally occupies.
Under the current EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement, which is at present under review by the European Court of Justice precisely on grounds of the implicit inclusion of Western Sahara is its operational scope, EU vessels are obligated to land a certain percentage of their catches in Moroccan or Western Saharan ports, which then in turn go to companies like Oceamic. Oceamic itself was banned from exporting to the EU between 2012 and 2014 for failing to comply with physical hygiene standards.
The MW Brands-Oceamic partnership allows for the canning of pelagic species such as sardines and mackerel at the site of landing. According to a source close to MW Brands, the deal would also allow access to sardines "in the south" - probably refering to landings in other ports in Western Sahara, such as Dakhla. As part of the agreement, Oceamic will now co-pack sardines under the John West and Parmentier brands, for sale on the European market.
The partnership between MW Brands and Oceamic has only now been uncovered by Undercurrent News. Oceamic's manager Mohamed Zoubeir was quoted saying the move is a "long-term business partnership, and maybe the beginning of a joint venture". The volumes Oceamic will be producing for MW Brands is not yet certain, he said. "For the next four or five months we will produce to order. In December we will fix the volumes." For now the deal is to co-pack sardines only, though mackerel has come in for discussion as well, he confirmed.
MW Brands is a canning group that is owned by Thai Union Frozen Products. MW Brands is represented in a number of European countries; France, the Netherlands, UK, Ireland, Italy and Portugal, but its products are also available in other countries.
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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