Canadian company Agrium claims to follow law, silent on howcome

Agrium Inc, the Canadian company that started importing phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara just a few months ago, claims to have both the law and the principles of corporate responsibility on its side.
Published: 06.03 - 2014 15:32Printer version    
In a letter to Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) yesterday, Agrium Inc defended its imports from occupied Western Sahara by citing responsible corporate behaviour and a raft of legal opinions that would allegedly back up their business deal. Yet, the company refuses to disclose those legal opinions, as WSRW had requested, since they "of course are confidential legal advice to us".

Agrium Inc signed a contract with Moroccan state-owned phosphate company OCP (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) in 2011, agreeing to commence importing in the autumn of 2013. But OCP not only manages the phosphate reserves of Morocco proper, it is also responsible for exploiting the phosphate mines in Western Sahara - Africa's last colony that is largely occupied by Morocco. The UN considers such operations in violation of international law, unless the Saharawi people of Western Sahara consent to and benefit from the activities.

WSRW first confronted Agrium in the spring of 2013, warning it was at risk of entering into a protracted conflict and thereby undermining the UN peace process. The questions raised by WSRW were largely left unanswered, as the company cited confidentiality reasons.

Agrium Inc has since admitted to be importing from the occupied territory. It received its first shipments in the autumn of last year.

But Agrium fails to see the problem. To the contrary, it believes that paying Morocco for minerals that are dug up in occupied Western Sahara, is in line with responsible corporate behaviour and international law.

In yesterday's letter to WSRW, Agrium states that it lies within its sphere of influence of "ensuring, through our due diligence and ongoing evaluation efforts, that the sites from which we source rock operate in a responsible manner and in compliance with our corporate responsibility practices. Through our due diligence, we sought and received a variety of information from OCP on their business, including key performance indicators on their environmental performance, community investment, labour profile, etc."

"We call on Agrium's management to respect the basic principles of human rights and international law. As the company has chosen to turn a blind eye to the Saharawi people, we call on Agrium's ethically minded shareholders to proceed to divest its ownership over the firm", stated Sara Eyckmans, WSRW's coordinator.




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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