Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, in violation of UN resolutions. The territory is rich in phosphate, which makes money for Morocco - not for the occupied Sahrawis. Gearbulk shipping company gets some of the profits by transporting phosphate out to the world market. Gearbulk seems to think this is all right. We do not.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague has rejected Morocco's claim to Western Sahara. The UN has established that the Sahrawis themselves must be allowed to decide their future, and that they have the right of disposal over their natural resources. Instead they are denied their freedom and deprived of the profits.
Two weeks ago Sahrawis demonstrated in Bergen. Kristian Jebsen, Gearbulk's chairman of the board, answered curtly by e-mail. Questions posed by Bergens Tidende were dismissed because they involved business relations and, in part, political conditions, and could not be answered on grounds of principle. By such means the company protected itself against criticism and social responsibility.
Jebsen increased their immunity with the argument that the company is registered in Bermuda and is operated from London. But Gearbulk is not owned by Bermuda. Even if it were operated from Mars, the owners' responsibility would not be removed.
The shipping company is performing within laws and regulations, Jebsen emphasised. He said nothing about ethics, which implies that one is aware of what is happening in Western Sahara and has an opinion about what one should not profit from.
An op-ed in Bergens Tidende today reminds us of the fact that the Advisory Council of Ethics of the Government Pension Fund â€“ Global has called participation in oil exploration in Western Sahara a gross ethical breach that contributes to legitimise Morocco's occupation. The warning is also valid, of course, of the trade in phosphates.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs advises against such activities and says that they may be in violation of international law. Jan Egeland, director of Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, told Bergens Tidende that it is debatable whether they are breaking international law. But the activity is immoral, he believes. That's all? For Gearbulk that is not prohibited enough and is therefore OK. The chairman of the board confirmed this when he told Norwatch.no that the British Foreign Office has stated that trade with the occupier of Western Sahara is not recommended, nor is it prohibited.
Whereas other shipping companies are now staying away, Gearbulk continues its activity. After all, it is not participating in trade with the Sahrawis' property. It just transports it around. Gearbulk shows determination to profit but not insight into what it is doing. It is, however, permissible to change.
Translated from Norwegian by Western Sahara Resource Watch.
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 three different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.
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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