The company that certified energy infrastructure in occupied Western Sahara, claims that a UN body had found the company not to breach human rights.
Above: Saharawi protesting against the Saudi energy projects in Western Sahara which Vigeo Eiris gave certification for green bonds.
The saga of Vigeo Eiris – the certification company that insists Western Sahara being part of Morocco – continues. Now it claims that United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) found its operations to be in respect of the UNGC principles.
In 2016, the Moroccan/French/UK company Vigeo Eiris certified a Saudi energy project in occupied Western Sahara, without seeking consent from the representatives of the territory. Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), found the company's involvement rather ironic, as the Vigeo Eiris's business model is to advise and screen other companies on social responsibility and human rights. The company's main owner EIRIS Foundation even manages a database on companies operating in other occupied territories. Morocco has illegally occupied parts of Western Sahara since 1975.
Read all about Vigeo Eiris and its position in defense of the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara here.
Nevertheless, Vigeo Eiris refused to answer questions from Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) on the matter. Instead, it has defended its practice. Its website still presents Western Sahara as part of Morocco.
Vigeo Eiris has since 2005 been adhering to the UNGC. As a consequence of Vigeo Eiris's non-response to the questions, WSRW called on UNGC for help to mediate, so that answers to our questions could be obtained.
“WSRW campaigned and called on the UN Global Compact office in New York to mediate. Vigeo Eiris were not found to have breached any of the 10 Principles of the United Nations Global Compact”, the company now claims in its annual report to UN Global Compact. The report was published on 15 January 2018.
However, that cannot be true.
UN Global Compact never makes assessments on whether or not companies in fact comply with the 10 principles which companies are supposed to adhere to. UNGC specifically states that it "does not make judgments about participant companies’ performance" on the principles. It stresses that it “is not now and does not aspire to become a compliance based initiative”. Regarding the specific case of Vigeo Eiris-WSRW mediation, UNGC has stated that it "in no way" has made "a judgment on the merits of the concerns raised".
It seems Vigeo Eiris could have misunderstood the nature and mandate of UNGC.
This is what Vigeo Eiris reported to UNGC, 2018
“From November 2016 to March 2017, Vigeo Eiris received letters of protest from Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW), regarding the second opinion provided to a green bond issued by Masen, the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy in November 2016.
WSRW considered that solar and green projects developed by Masen in the Western side of Sahara were of “illegal nature” and constituted a “violation of the right of the Saharawi people”.
Vigeo Eiris responded publicly to WSRW with 3 letters explaining our position and why we believe there was no reason to withdraw or modify our assessment. WSRW campaigned and called on the UN Global Compact office in New York to mediate. Vigeo Eiris were not found to have breached any of the 10 Principles of the United Nations Global Compact.
All our correspondence were made public and are available on Business & Human Rights Resource Center website.“The only requirement of adhering to the initiative, in addition to communicating with stakeholders, is the annual self-reporting mechanism, in which the companies report on their commitment to the principles. It was in this document, the so-called Communication on Progress (CoP) report, that Vigeo Eiris claimed that the UN initiative had concluded on the company’s compliance with the UNGC principles.
The issue of the mediation was not whether Vigeo Eiris was complying with the principles or not, but simply to make the company respond to the WSRW letters.
WSRW has today sent a letter to UN Global Compact asking whether it will request Vigeo Eiris for a rectification of the reference to the name of UNGC made in the Communication on Progress report – which is currently posted on the website of UN Global Compact itself. The Vigeo Eiris report can also be downloaded here.
UNGC initially opened mediation between WSRW and Vigeo Eiris on 16 March 2017, but announced on 22 May 2017 that it would no longer mediate. On 1 June 2017, WSRW asked UN Global Compact questions relating to its reasons for ending the dialogue process. WSRW is awaiting reply.
Over the course of the last year, several legal developments have taken place which confirm the breach of self-determination when entering commercial agreements with Morocco for a neighbouring Western Sahara.
On 10 January 2018, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the EU underlined that international humanitarian law is applicable to the conflict, as he defines Western Sahara under partial foreign occupation by Morocco. The Advocate General furthermore stressed that the right to self-determination is an obligation erga omnes and a human right, and that the representatives of the people of Western Sahara have to give their consent for agreements relating to the territory.
Polisario, the liberation movement of Western Sahara, has already initiated legal cases in national courts against companies that operate in Western Sahara.
The legal developments show that foreign agreements in Western Sahara are in breach of the right of self-determination for the Saharawi people, if consent has not been obtained from the representative of the people. This is in line with what WSRW has communicated to Vigeo Eiris.
Vigeo Eiris claims in its Communication on Progress reports to have “responded publicly to WSRW”. This is not correct. Only one letter was sent from Vigeo Eiris to WSRW, dated 19 December 2016. Other letters, sent to Business & Human Rights Center (and not to WSRW) are not addressed to WSRW, and they fail to address the questions WSRW had sent the company. Letters sent from WSRW to Vigeo Eiris on 14 February 2017 and 3 March 2017 were never responded to, and the questions have not been answered.
The UK-French company Vigeo Eiris certified and defended a Moroccan-Saudi energy project in occupied Western Sahara. WSRW calls on the board to engage on the matter.