In August 2008, it was discovered that the Norwegian fertilizer producer Yara International had imported phosphates from occupied Western Sahara, despite previous promises that they would never again carry out such imports.
Yara has over the last 3 years followed the recommendations from the Norwegian government, which urges Norwegian companies to neither trade with nor invest in Western Sahara until the dispute over the territory is settled.
But despite earlier promises and despite Norwegian government policy, and despite the fact that Yara is over 40 percent owned by the Norwegian government, the news service Norwatch revealed in August that Yara had imported a cargo containing 16.800 tonnes of phosphates from Western Sahara. The value of the cargo, transported by a bulk vessel named ‘African Wildcat’, was estimated to be around 4,3 million euros. See coverage of the story on Norwegian national broadcaster, NRK, to the right (in Norwegian).
The cargo was discharged at Yara’s harbour at Herøya, from 30th of July to 6th of August this year. Norwatch even got hold of a photo documenting the vessel at harbour (on top).
“I can confirm that we have imported one phosphate shipment. We are not about to start importing phosphate originating from Western Sahara”, Bente Slaatten, public relations officer at Yara told Norwatch.
Reported to the police Few days after the revelation was made, the Association of Sahrawis in Norway, together with the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara reported Yara to the police.
“The production and export of the phosphates is done by an illegal occupying power in violation of the wishes and interests of the people of the territory, the Sahrawis”, the two organizations stated in the file handed over to the police on 29 August. “Thus, the phosphate exports must be considered a theft. The customer of the phosphates, Yara, has knowingly purchased the stolen goods, and thereby violated § 317 of the Norwegian Penal Code on fencing of stolen property”, the statement said.
The story of the reporting to the police was covered by the private national TV station, TV2 (to the right, in Norwegian).
The Oslo district police has confirmed to the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara that the issue is currently under investigation.
Promised to stop As late as in 2005, Yara promised in Norwegian media that it would not again import from Western Sahara.
After the the revelation of the August 2008 shipment, Yara has repeated numerous times to Norwegian media that this policy remains unchanged. The import in August was an exception, only related to testing of production facilities in Norway that they are investing millions of euros in, according to Yara.
“We have had a project in which we tested various types of phosphate. In that project we chose to include this type, with an expectation that some time in the future the Western Sahara conflict will be resolved, and that the UN and Norwegian authorities will no longer advice against it. Now that we are investing large sums in the new plant, we must ensure that we get it right”, Slaatten told Norwatch.
This message was actually also conveyed to Norwegian authorities two weeks before 'African Wildcat' entered the harbour of El Aaiun, in occupied Western Sahara. The Ministry of Trade and Industry had been updated about Yara's import already in beginning of July –but failed to prevent Yara from carrying out the trade.
“Yara informed us that it would not start importing phosphate from the mentioned areas as long as the UN and the Norwegian authorities advised against import from Western Sahara”; said Deputy Minister for Trade and Industry, Øyvind Slåke, to Norwatch.
Not yet apologized Yara has still not consulted the representatives of the Sahrawi people, nor apologized for their imports, which entails a serious political and economic loss for the Sahrawi people.
Nor has Yara compensated for the loss. The value of the stolen phosphates equals 25% of the entire multilateral aid that is given by the international community to the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria in one entire year. A recent report by Norwegian Church Aid reveals that 19% of children in the refugee camps suffer from malnourishment, making the situation in the camps one of the most acute in the world.
Unethical “A particularly serious violation of fundamental ethical norms e.g. because it may strengthen Morocco’s sovereignty claims and thus contribute to undermining the UN peace process”. That is what the US energy company Kerr-McGee's involvement in Western Sahara was called by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance in 2005.
The breach was considered so serious that the Norwegian government’s pension fund decided to divest from the US oil company.
The three political parties in the Norwegian coalition government all have adopted strong resolutions demanding Norwegian companies to stay away from Western Sahara.
The revelations of Yara’s phosphates import come shortly after three Norwegian shipping companies announced they do not wish to participate in similar trade.
The Bergen-based shipping company R-Bulk was caught red-handed in April, when one of its ships had transported phosphate from the occupied country to Colombia. “We have of course taken this up with the shipping company that leased the ship, so that they will do their utmost to prevent this from happening in the future,” R-Bulk’s chairman of the board told the National Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) in Hordaland.
“We are located in Asia and admit that we knew nothing about Western Sahara. We have only had a single charter. But now that we have become aware of the Western Sahara issue, we won’t take on new contracts for assignments there,” Raymond Ching, vice president of Oslo Stock Exchange-listed Jinhui Shipping, told the leading English-language newspaper South China Morning Post on 11 May 2008. Jinhui withdrew from the assignments after Norwegian insurance compnay Storebrand had taken the case up with the shipping company and after Norwatch had reported the involvement.
In November 2007 the Farsund-based shipping company Arnesen Shipbrokers informed NRK that it would do likewise.
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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