A group of Western Sahara friends including Wesfarmers shareholders asked many questions to the management of Wesfarmers during its Annual General Meeting held in Perth on 13 November 2008: http://www.wesfarmers.com.au/default.aspx?MenuID=60. The questions concerned the involvement of Wesfarmers subsidiary CSBP in the illegal exploitation of phosphate rock from Western Sahara.
In the course of the past year Wesfarmers' importation of phosphate rock from Morocco, sourced in Western Sahara has troubled ethical investment advisors and fund holders internationally to the point of recommending the divestment of shareholdings in Wesfarmers. The latest is a major Swedish insurance company, Folksam.
There is growing awareness too amongst Australian investors and indeed the current Prime Minister has expressed deep misgivings about this trade.
Wesfarmers' fertiliser subsidiary, CSBP is the second biggest Australian importer of phosphate from Western Sahara. Phosphate rock is sold by Morocco although it comes from Bou Craa mine in the part of Western Sahara under military occupation by Morocco.
"This is the crux of the problem", says Cate Lewis, secretary of the Australia Western Sahara Association (Victoria), "CSBP is buying phosphate from Morocco, which is not Morocco 's to sell. It belongs to the people of Western Sahara."
Believing that shareholders should be made aware of this growing movement of divestment from Wesfarmers, members of the Australia Western Sahara Association asked questions at Wesfarmers' AGM on Thursday in Perth. The Association believes imports should be placed on hold until the referendum of self-determination is held to allow the Saharawi people to decide whether to be an independent country or part of Morocco.
In international law, Western Sahara is a 'non-self-governing territory', whose natural resources can only be traded with the consent and for the benefit of the indigenous people of that territory, in this case the Saharawi people (see Hans Corell's legal opinion: www.arso.org/UNlegaladv.htm). Morocco argues that the revenue is used for infrastructure projects that ultimately benefit the Saharawis however there is little evidence for this and Saharawis have certainly not been consulted about the extraction of their resources nor the distribution of the revenue derived from it.
The ethical argument against this trade is even stronger. It supports a brutal regime which commits human rights abuses on a daily basis against the Saharawi people under occupation. Morocco 's claim to Western Sahara is resisted by the Saharawis and has never been recognised by any country in the world, including Australia. Unfortunately your trade with Morocco effectively legitimises that regime and props up its intransigence in the 33 year-long UN process towards resolving sovereignty.
Around 160,000 Saharawi refugees have lived in exile across the border in south-west Algeria in extremely harsh conditions for this period. It is worth noting that with the price of phosphate rock having risen to 490 USD per tonne, the value of just two shiploads to Fremantle exceeds that of the entire annual humanitarian aid going to the Saharawi refugees.
The President of the Australia Western Sahara Association, former senator, Lyn Allison, wrote to Wesfarmers this week saying: "we urge you to raise the matter at the forthcoming AGM and announce to shareholders that you will cease as soon as possible the importation of phosphate rock sourced from this occupied country." She added: "we will be encouraging investors and shareholders to hold the board of Wesfarmers to account on this unethical and arguably risky trade."
The trend towards ethically sound investment may well grow as a result of recent events in global financial markets.
For Further Information: Contact Cate Lewis 0407 288 358 or Ron Guy 0428 173 970 http://www.awsa.org.au/ http://www.wsrw.org
You can watch the questions and answers here: http://www-waa-akam.thomson-webcast.net/au/dispatching/?event_id=e6cd43c45d4f974f639292ccfb74dd95&portal_id=cff2f208e945b0c05d992e6231cc3d44
You need to choose the sections: Formal business at 00:08.00 Formal Business at 00.43.00 Q&A Session at 00.10.00 Q&A Session at 35.00.00
The ABC's 7.30 Report ran a program about phosphate importations from Western Sahara on 9 June 2008. You can watch the 8 min program on: http://www.wsrw.org/index.php?cat=128
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