Australian importer temporarily avoids Western Sahara phosphates
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The Australian company Wesfarmers stated in its annual report that it for the coming production year, it will avoid phosphates from Western Sahara. It's fertiliser subsidiary company, CSBP has been a main importer of the controversial resource from the occupied territory.

Published 06 October 2012

On 27 September, Wesfarmers published its 2012 annual report. The company, which has for over two decades been a major importer of phosphate rock from Western Sahara, wrote:

"In late 2009, the division announced an investment of almost $5million in a regenerative thermal oxidiser (RTO) to allow diversification of phosphate rock supply options. Following operational testing and trials of various blends of odorous phosphate rock, the RTO was commissioned this year. Phosphate rock from Western Sahara is not part of the import program for the coming production year" (page 46).

A number of ethically responsible investors, mostly in Europe, have over the last years been contacting Wesfarmers over concerns over the company’s imports from Western Sahara. Some of these financial institutions have blacklisted Wesfarmers from their investment funds for ethical reasons. 

Western Sahara Resource Watch believes the development of Wesfarmers’ temporary purchase halt to be good news for the Saharawi people.

"But it must be noted that Wesfarmers has still not stated it will permanently end its controversial imports", stated Erik Hagen, chair of Western Sahara Resource Watch.

"The company has not been clear on what effect that the new technology, if proven successful, would have on the imports from Western Sahara. It has stated the Sahara imports would be stopped for one year, but it is not known if they will be resumed in the future. Despite the welcome news from Wesfarmers, stakeholders should beware that the company is keeping its foot in the door", he said.

"Wesfarmers already gives the lead to other fertiliser companies who claim there are no options to import from the territory”, stated Cate Lewis of the Australia Western Sahara Association.

"We hope that they will all, as Wesfarmers has done, explore ways to cease imports from Western Sahara altogether. Until such time as they commit to stopping permanently, they are all helping to prolong the conflict and the suffering of the Saharawi people", Lewis stated. 

Wesfarmers has so far shown a will to phase down the imports, but not yet to phase out. The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara has previously requested information from Wesfarmers regarding exactly this topic: which effect the installation of the new technology is planned to have on the imports from the territory. However, the questions remain to a large extent unanswered. See correspondence here:

 

  • Letter from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara to Wesfarmers, 8 Dec 2011. 
     
  • Letter from Wesfarmers to Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, 15 Feb 2012.
     
  • Letter from the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara to Wesfarmers, 16 Feb 2012 (letter erroneously dated, as 16 Jan 2012). 

    Morocco occupies the territory of Western Sahara. Its main source of income from the territory is the large phosphate mines that they deplete in disregard of international law. Western Sahara Resource Watch believes that the importers of such phosphates play a key role in upholding Morocco's groundless claims to the territoy - as well as the conflict. 
     

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