[Reporter] New Zealand ’s biggest fishing company is being criticized by a European human rights group for operating in disputed waters off Africa . Sealord is said to be involved in deals to market fish caught from waters off the Western Sahara, which has been occupied by Morocco for over 30 years. Nick Butcher reports:
[Reporter Nick Butcher] A ceasefire between Morocco and Western Sahara rebels has been in place since 1991, but conflict remains over Morocco ’s exploitation of Western Saharan resources. Sealord is accused of being party to this because of its shareholding in a company called Europacifíco, which processes fish caught in Western Saharan waters by a Moroccan company. Javier García Lachica is a spokesperson for the human rights group Western Sahara Resource Watch.
[Mr. Javier García Lachica ] Any company in the world – and this is the case of Europacífico and Sealord – that is making business on this trade of fishing products from Western Sahara is also going against international law. They are giving signs of supporting the occupation of Morocco .
[Reporter] Mr. Lachica says most Western countries oppose the occupation, including the New Zealand government. This country supports the UN call for a referendum of Western Saharan people on independence. Mr. Lachica says the Sealord deal puts the New Zealand government in a difficult position.
[Mr. García Lachica] The New Zealand government is on the one hand saying that we have to support the UN efforts for the conflict, but on the other hand they are not clearly saying to their companies that they have to stop doing business in this area, so there is a clear controversy.
[Reporter] Sealord wouldn’t comment on the fishing agreement but confirmed its shareholding in Europacifico. New Zealand has already angered Western Saharan independence group by also importing phosphates from Western Sahara . The independence group Front Polisario says it is disappointed a New Zealand company is again involved in trading Western Saharan resources on behalf of Morocco . Its spokesperson is Kamel Fadel.
[Mr. Kamal Fadel ] This is really wrong. It is illegal, unethical and immoral for a New Zealand company to be involved in the theft of a resource that belongs to the people of Western Sahara .
[Reporter] The Minister of Trade, Phil Goff, says Morocco is aware of this country’s support for decolonization in Western Sahara , but he says there is UN agreement to the exploitation of Western Saharan resources as long as its people benefit.
[Minister of Trade, Mr. Phil Goff] The UN Under-Secretary for Legal Affairs, a man by the name of Hans Corell , issued a statement which basically said it was compatible to extract resources from a non-self-governing territory provided that it was for the benefit of the peoples of those territories.
[Reporter] But Javier García Lachica of the Western Sahara Resource Watch says Morocco is the beneficiary, not the people of Western Sahara .
[Mr. García Lachica] This money is going directly to the Moroccan government, and this money is supporting the occupation.
[Reporter] Even Mr. Goff concedes it is hard to know for sure where the money goes.
[Mr. Goff] It’s very hard for New Zealand to know precisely what the value of the extraction of resources is and what the value is of the Moroccan investment in the Western Sahara for the benefit of its people. But we take our direction from the United Nations.
[Reporter] Phil Goff says he raised the issue of exploitation of Western Sahara’s fish and phosphate during a trade mission to Morocco in January. Meanwhile, the UN is urging Morocco and Western Saharan independence group Front Polisario to enter fresh negotiations over the disputed territory. How this will affect the fishing deal Sealord has with its Moroccan partners remains to be seen. For Morning Report, Nick Butcher.
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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