New report on contentious Western Sahara phosphate trade
Morocco shipped over 1.5 million tonnes of phosphate out of occupied Western Sahara in 2017, to the tune of over $142 million. But the number of international importers of the contentious conflict mineral is waning, WSRW's annual report shows.
For the fifth year in a row, Western Sahara Resource Watch has published a detailed annual overview of the companies involved in the purchase of occupied Western Sahara's white gold: phosphate.
The illegally exploited phosphate rock is an important source of income for the Moroccan government, which holds large parts of the Western Sahara territory under military occupation, contrary to international law. Representatives of the Saharawi people have been consistently outspoken against the trade, both in the UN, generally, and to specific companies.
The list presented in WSRW's 48-page report is complete for the calendar year 2017, containing all phosphate shipments from El Aaiun to takers around the globe. The 2017 imports are attributed to six companies in five countries internationally, while about 70 companies worldwide have been identified as owning or operating the vessels transporting the rock to its buyers.
This report details a total exported volume from Western Sahara in 2017 of 1.59 million tonnes, with an estimated value of $142.74 million, shipped in 27 bulk vessels. That constitutes a decrease in exports since 2016, the report shows, largely explained by a declining number of importers. 2017 saw the lowest number of importers ever recorded by WSRW. To compare, in 2012, there were 15 importers in 12 countries. In 2017, they were down to a third.
The largest importer of 2017 was Agrium Inc (now Nutrien Inc) from Canada. The most heavily involved operator is Ultrabulk A/S from Denmark.
A remarkable development of 2017 was the arrest in South Africa of a vessel carrying phosphate rock from Western Sahara to a New Zealand based importer, and the South African High Court placing rightful ownership of the cargo in the exiled government of Western Sahara. The effect on the trade has been remarkable. Three previously long-term importers seemingly sopped buying after this incident, and the usual shipping routes have shifted to avoid Cape of Good Hope and Panama.
Similar P for Plunder reports were also published in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. WSRW calls on all companies involved in the trade to immediately halt all purchases of Western Sahara phosphates until a solution to the conflict has been found and the Saharawi people have been assured the exercise of their fundamental right to self-determination. Investors are requested to engage or divest unless companies commit clearly to withdrawing from the trade.
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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 five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.