Continental has left occupied Western Sahara

The German company Continental has not renewed its supply contract with the Moroccan national phosphate company that exploits the controversial Western Sahara phosphate mine.

Published 11 February 21

The contract between Continental's subsidiary ContiTech and OCP, Morocco's state-owned phosphate company that illegally exploits the phosphate reserves of Bou Craa in occupied Western Sahara, has not been renewed. This was clarified by Continental to Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) in a correspondence this week.

“We commend Continental for not continuing the supplies to the mine in Western Sahara. Morocco has no right to operate the phosphate mine on occupied land. These resources belong to the oppressed Saharawi people",  Sara Eyckmans from WSRW told.

The company sent an initial letter to WSRW on 10 February 2021, while today clarifying that this means that the company “thus do not have an existing contract or agreement” for the territory.

Continental is the second company in a space of a few months that announces its termination of servicing OCP's operations in Western Sahara. In October 2020, Swedish mining equipment company Epiroc announced that it will no longer supply the controversial Bou Craa phosphate mine in occupied Western Sahara with drilling equipment. A dozen clients of OCP have stopped purchasing the conflict minerals over concerns of human rights and international law, as desribed in WSRW's annual reports on the trade. 

The contract, arranging for ContiTech to supply replacement parts to the conveyor installations of OCP, had already expired on 30 June 2020. 

Continental and OCP had been in dialogue for well over a year to renew the contract. Continental communicated to WSRW in January 2020 that talks were ongoing and that the issue of Western Sahara would be addressed in the negotiations.

Yet in June 2020, the contract expired. "The supply contract to which you refer has not yet been extended. Whether a new contract will be concluded and, if so, what its content would be, cannot be said at present", stated the Executive Board of Continental AG at the company's Annual General Meeting on 14 July 2020 in response to WSRW's questions.

WSRW has been in dialogue with Continental since 2017. With time, other groups picked up our concerns over the company's involvement in the last colony of Africa. Several German NGOs appealed to the company in March 2020 to "comply with its corporate responsibility and not to provide economic support for Morocco's occupation of parts of Western Sahara in violation of international law". Continental furthermore had to address the issue at its 2020 AGM following questions from shareholders. The company's operations were covered in May 2020 in the German daily die tageszeitung

Through its subsidiary ContiTech, Continental held a key-role in the maintenance of the 100 km-long conveyor belt that carries phosphate rock from the Bou Craa mine out to the sea, from where it is shipped to clients internationally.  

Continental's involvement in Western Sahara started in 1971, when the territory was still colonised by Spain. In that year, ContiTech delivered an ST 2500 Stahlcord coveyor belt to a plant manufacturer that was contracted by the mine operator. After Morocco had invaded and annexed parts of the territory, ContiTech entered into a framework agreement with OCP to ensure replacement demands for the conveyor belt when needed. The agreement covered all OCP's sites, including the phosphate mine in occupied Western Sahara which is illegally operated by OCP through its subsidiary Phosboucraa.

In 2015, ContiTech started the construction of a conveyor belt production facility in Jorf Lasfar, an area in Morocco's proper that hosts the country's largest phosphate operations. Production at the facility started in 2017.

The most central supplier to the OCP mine is today Siemens Gamesa, whose wind mills provide the energy to run the operation. Siemens Gamesa was in January excluded from the portfolios of the largest private fund manager in Norway for its contribution to Morocco's violation of international law.   

“We call on Siemens Gamesa to follow the examples of Continental and Epiroc. Supporting the operation of the OCP mine in Western Sahara constitutes a serious breach of fundamental ethical norms", Eyckmans stated. 

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