HeidelbergCement persistently defends business on occupied land

The company defended its controversial operations during the AGM on 12 May.

16 May 2022

Above: HeidelbergCement factory in occupied Western Sahara. Photo by @ElliLorz

HeidelbergCement controls two cement factories in Western Sahara through its Moroccan subsidiary Ciments du Maroc (CIMAR) on permits issued by the government of Morocco, which illegally occupies the larger part of the territory. The company itself, however, considers Morocco as the responsible authority in the territory, as was evident from its response to questions submitted by Dachverband der kritischen Aktionärinnen und Aktionäre, in collaboration with Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW).

See WSRW's unofficial translation of the questions and answers during the company's 12 May 2022 annual meeting here

In the meeting, HeidelbergCement sheds some light on the volume of the resources needed for the production. “Our subsidiary purchases about 150,000 tons of limestone and pozzolans annually from local suppliers for cement production in the Western Sahara region”. It is unclear whether the company refers to suppliers in Western Sahara proper, or across the border with Morocco, when it says “local suppliers”. 

At last year's AGM the firm disclosed that it imported “clinker and gypsum from Morocco and purchase additional raw materials from Saharawi owned companies”, without any further specifications.

The company also indicated to be awaiting the outcome of legal processes at the EU Court of Justice, to see whether the Court “will uphold the complaints of the Commission and the Council”. The latter two EU institutional bodies have appealed a ruling from the EU's General Court of September 2021: the fifth consecutive EU ruling to conclude that Morocco has no sovereignty or administering mandate over Western Sahara, which is to be considered as a territory that is "separate and distinct" from any country in the world, including Morocco. As such, the people of Western Sahara ought to consent in order for any bilateral agreement with Morocco to lawfully affect their land, the Court has consistently ruled. The last ruling of September 2021 clarified that consent is to be obtained through the UN-recognised representation of the people of Western Sahara, the Frente Polisario, and not through a consultation of Moroccan operators or groups in the territory. It is precisely that last element that the EU Commission has objected to in its appeal, and HeidelbergCement seems to agree: “the EU Commission here doubts the representativeness and party capacity of the Frente Polisario”. 

The company's board went on to add that Morocco's proposal for granting autonomy to the territory it illegally and militarily occupied, and to which it possesses no legal claim, renders them “cautiously optimistic that a settlement of the conflict will be reached”. It should be noted that Morocco's proposal does not allow for any other options, such as e.g. independence, to be on the table, and as such does not allow for an expression of self-determination - as called for by the International Court of Justice, the EU Court of Justice, and which continues to be the cornerstone principle in the UN approach to resolving the conflict in Western Sahara.

Repeating its claims of last year's AGM, HeidelbergCement's board stated that it “assumes that the local population agrees with our business activities” and that they have been “granted the necessary approvals by the official representatives elected by the local population”. The population in Western Sahara currently consists of a majority of Moroccan settlers. The actual people of the territory, the Saharawis, are a minority, as many have fled their land due to Morocco's aggression. It is they who possess the sovereign right to the land and its resources - not the population of the territory, nor individuals who have been given a title by the Moroccan authorities through elections organised by Morocco in a land to which it has no right.

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