In 2013, it was revealed that the Swedish industrial company Atlas Copco had supplied key drilling equipment to a mine in occupied Western Sahara. The controversial mine is operated by the Moroccan state phosphate company OCP, yet, Morocco has no legal right to be in the occupied territory. The equipment is still today visible at the phosphate mining site.
Morocco generated over 200 million dollar income last year from the illegal mining and export of phosphate rock, according to a WSRW report published in April 2017.
Not long after the 2013 revelation of the Swedish involvement, Atlas Copco published an article on its website stating that it took the matter seriously, that it had "enhanced efforts to detect and ensure that no future indirect or direct sales in these regions go to projects that may violate international law" and that the company "will schedule a stakeholder dialogue regarding the sales to the Western Sahara mine".
The statement contains erroneous references to a key UN legal opinion by omitting its conclusion that activities need consent from the Saharawi people.
Four years later, in 2017, the company's machinery is still present and the website article remained totally unchanged - until this week. Now, the company made a change to its website:
Old: "Action Plan: Atlas Copco will schedule a stakeholder dialogue regarding the sales to the Western Sahara mine. The matter is complex both from a human rights perspective as well as from a business point of view, and the insight provided by participating investors and NGOs during the dialogue will be used to determine the way forward."
New: "The matter is complex both from a human rights perspective as well as from a business point of view, and the insight provided by investors and NGOs during the stakeholder dialogue has been used to determine the way forward."
The company in 2013 admitted to knowing that Saharawis needed to consent, but no such process seem to have begun. WSRW had a suspicion that no "stakeholder dialogue" had started over the course of the last four years, as the company was publicly claiming. The deletion of the information about the meeting confirms that this was the case - and that the mention refers to a single meeting with Swedish (!) groups and owners in the autumn of 2013.
"For four years, Atlas Copco has given the impression in public that they are in a process of addressing and evaluating the matter. It is positive that the company now has removed incorrect information about a scheduled stakeholder meeting, and that declare they have concluded on the way forward. But where does that way go? It is time that the company either explains its exit strategy, that is seeks consent from Polisario, or, as a very minimum, that it shows to have learned something along the way, by making further corrections to its website", Sylvia Valentin, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch stated.
On 27 March 2017, WSRW sent a letter to Atlas Copco requesting information about the involvement and the process. On 10 April, Atlas Copco responded that the company "has enhanced efforts to detect and ensure that no future indirect or direct sales in these regions go to projects that may violate international law. Atlas Copco always complies fully with all trade laws, regulations and sanctions. There is no new information that we can share about the concerned business or the customer."
WSRW requested whether Atlas Copco could still clarify other questions, but the company responded on 5 June 2017 that "we believe that we have already shared the relevant information". At the same time, the website was amended, by removing the reference to the company being in a process to plan stakeholder meetings and that it was going to determine the way ahead. The company, in the end, has decided on the way, but without clarifying which way that may be.
These are the questions which Atlas Copco refuses to answer:
Regarding the contract 1. What kind of spare parts and services have been provided to the mining operations in Western Sahara since its sales in 2008? 2. For how long is Atlas Copco obliged to deliver such parts and services in Western Sahara? 3. What has been the value of these parts and services since 2008? 4. When did Atlas Copco last have people on the ground in Western Sahara for maintenance and service?
Regarding Atlas Copco’s interpretation of international law 5. Atlas Copco states that it complies with the law. Considering the judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU on 21 December 2016, clarifying that Western Sahara is a distinct and separate territory from Morocco: which national laws, according to Atlas Copco, apply when carrying out business engagement in Western Sahara? 6. Atlas Copco states that it is “legally obligated to sell spare parts and services to mine in Western Sahara and all other mines owned by the Moroccan customer”. From this sentence, one gets the impression that it is Atlas Copco’s opinion that the mine is legally owned by the Moroccan customer, OCP. What does Atlas Copco conclude on the question of the legality of OCP’s operation in Bou Craa, Western Sahara? 7. Does Atlas Copco agree that the consequence of the principles outlined in the CJEU judgement is that the company need to seek the consent of the representatives of the people of Western Sahara? 8. Has Atlas Copco any evidence to suggest that OCP has sought the consent of the Saharawi people of Western Sahara upon undertaking the production and export of phosphates? 9. On its website, Atlas Copco writes that “the United Nations Legal Counsel states that all foreign economic activity in Non-Self-Governing-Territories such as Western Sahara must ‘first, be for benefit of the people of those Territories; and second they must be carried out on their behalf, or in consultation with their representatives’”. It is our observation that this is a selective reading of the 2002 legal opinion, and does not represent the content of the conclusion of that much referred UN document. Will Atlas Copco now, following the clear result of the 2016 CJEU judgment, amend the references to the UN Legal Opinion so that it correctly reflects the conclusion of the Corell opinion?
Regarding your company’s approach since 2013 10. Your website states that “Atlas Copco will schedule a stakeholder dialogue […] to determine the way forward.” We believe you here refer to the “stakeholder dialogue” undertaken [with Swedish investors and Swedish civil society groups] on 19 August 2013. What was decided from Atlas Copco as the way forward? 11. Are more such dialogue meetings scheduled, or will Atlas Copco amend the website article so that it does not longer claim to have a plan to engage with stakeholders (in Sweden)? 12. Did anyone from Western Sahara take part in the so-called “stakeholder meeting”? 13. Atlas Copco’s Vice President Corporate Responsibility wrote in a mail on 9 July 2013 that the NGOs (in Sweden or internationally) “are not the ultimate or most important stakeholder in this issue (which the Sahrawi people are)”. Did your company approach the representatives of the people of the territory before or after the stakeholder meeting? 14. Does Atlas Copco’s decision to not have one-on-one meetings (which was communicated to an NGO in 2013) regarding Western Sahara apply to the owners of the phosphates – the Saharawi people? 15. Has Atlas Copco’s position on not having one-on-one meetings regarding Western Sahara changed following the judgement from the CJEU stating that the representatives of the people of Western Sahara first need to consent?
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.
Leading activists from Western Sahara are condemned to sentences ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment in connection to a mass protest in 2010 denouncing the Saharawi people’s social and economic marginalization in their occupied land; the Gdeim Izik protest camp.
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