China Molybdenum silent on potential conflict mineral imports

WSRW has tracked shipments of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara all the way to an industrial compound in Cubatão, Brazil.

09 February 2021

Three shipments, jointly carrying an estimated 100,000 tonnes of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara, were transported to Brazil in 2020. Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) has tracked the vessels all the way to the port of Santos, located in the State of São Paolo in the south of Brazil, and further from the port to an industrial site in Cubatão, located 12 kilometers inland from Santos port. 

The cargo was loaded over to a fleet of large trucks on the Santos port, ending up through the gates of the closed industrial site, where two companies are located: Cesari Fertilizantes (Cefértil), part of Grupo Cesari, and Copebras, a subsidiary of the Chinese group China Molybdenum (CMOC). Independent sources in Santos told WSRW that the cargo was destined for Cefértil and Copebras.

WSRW has contacted both companies to ask whether the conflict mineral was destined for their plants. Neither responded. The trade to Brazil is new, having commenced in 2019, after the large North American imports had stopped.  

28 January, Brazilian newspaper Brasil de Fato published a piece on the imports to the Santos area. The newspaper had also contacted Cefértil and Copebras.

There was no response from Copebras Indústria Ltda, a phosphorus miner and phosphate fertilizer producer that is wholly owned by the Chinese mining corporation China Molybdenum Co., Ltd, listed in the Hong Kong and Shanghai stock exchange.

Some of the Bou Craa phosphate rock ended up along the side of the road, as one of the trucks made a stopover along the way from the port to Cubatão. 

The Brazilian Cesari group, owner of Cefértil, did reply that Cefértil does not use Saharawi phosphates for its formulations. "In addition to this, our industrialization and storage contracts contain specific clauses in which the customer is responsible for the origin of the product", the company explained.

Grupo Cesari's large industrial area in Cubatão offers storage facilities to more than one company, including companies that are not part of Cesari's portfolio. One such company is Mosaic Fertilizantes, the Brazilian subsidiary of the Mosaic Company, the USA's largest phosphate-based fertilizer producer.

In 2015, The Mosaic Company informed that it would no longer import phosphate from Western Sahara. That position has been confirmed to WSRW in 2019, and now again to Brasil de Fato.

”Mosaic Fertilizantes confirms that it has the Cesari / Cefértil Group as its partner in industrial and warehousing activities and not as a supplier of raw materials", Mosaic wrote. "The company reinforces that it does not agree with the use of raw materials from illegal extraction and [...] is in compliance with all health and safety standards, requiring the same compliance from all its business partners". The company added that it "is not responsible for purchasing any of the products from the ships from the Western Sahara region and destined for Cesari in the last year."

One of the many trucks that transported the rock.

Among the questions asked by WSRW to Cefértil was whether fertilizer products that are produced on the company's premises could carry any other brand name(s) than Mosaic, and, if yes, which. The question remains unanswered. 

WSRW has since July 2019 observed several shipments of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara to Brazil. In July 2019, the bulk carrier Orient Tribune anchored at the ports of Salvador and Antonina. In October 2019, the Wulin docked in Santos. In April 2020, the Golden Bonnie arrived at Santos with an estimated 32,200 tonnes of phosphate, in June the Lalis D followed suit with a projected 33,000 tonnes. A photo of the Lalis D in Santos port can be accessed here. Near the end of the year, the Regius arrived at Santos port with a cargo of around 33,400 tonnes.

Brazil is the world's fourth largest consumer of phosphate-based agricultural fertilizers. OCP SA, Morocco' state-owned phosphate company that illegally operates the Western Sahara phosphate mine, has set up office in the country in 2010 and is keen on expanding its operations. OCP has operations in the State of Sao Paolo.

Read WSRW's letters sent to Cefértil and Copebras/CMOC in January 2021. 

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