"[In] line with our full commitment to responsible chains and ethics, we will in future make reasonable effort to explicitly request the customer to refrain from supplying our products into a port within the territory of Western Sahara, even if it is legally admitted", the CEO of Austrian chemical company Borealis, Mr. Alfred Stern, wrote in a letter to Western Sahara Resource Watch on 26 May 2020.
The statement follows the revelation that a vessel filled with LPG gas from Borealis' plant in Stenungsund, Sweden, transported gas into occupied Western Sahara.
The controversial cargo arrived in the occupied territory on 22 March 2020, aboard the chemical tanker Emmanuel (IMO 9580182). According to our information, the vessel loaded the cargo during a 27-hour call at Borealis AB’s jetty in Stenungsund, from the late afternoon of 13 March until the evening of 14 March.
Borealis now clarifies that the cargo was exported to a client in the UK, and that it "had no information of the port of final destination, as it is common practice in our business".
The company is one of Austria's largest companies, with headquarters in Vienna, Austria, and 6,900 people employed in over 120 countries globally.
The statement from Borealis came as a response to a letter that three civil society associations sent to the company headquarters in Austria on 12 May 2020. The letter was signed by Österreichisch Saharauische Gesellschaft, Emmaus Stockholm and Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW).
"Through providing gas supplies to Moroccan interests in Western Sahara, Borealis has contributed to entrench the Morocco’s position in the conflict, as it supplies critical Moroccan industries on the ground", the three associations wrote.
Now, the tone is different.
"We commend Borealis' clear response to our concern and its promise not to carry out such exports in the future. Borealis and Equinor together set a good example for this industry. We particularly call on the Swedish shipping company Wisby Tankers to follow this path, and stop all transports of petroleum products from Spanish refineries into the occupied territory. This industry is fuelling the brutal Moroccan occupation", chair of Österreichisch Saharauische Gesellschaft, Karin Scheele told.
Scheele is former Member of European Parliament, where she was leader of the European Parliament's intergroup for Western Sahara.
She underlined that the claim that exporting to Western Sahara "is legally admitted" can be questioned. Under international law, companies and governments would have to obtain permission from relevant authorities in the territory for it to be legal. Morocco, as occupying power, is not a relevant authority.
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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.