Record profits in trade with conflict phosphates

The invasion of Ukraine causes a massive increase in Morocco's profits from its illegal plunder of phosphate rock from occupied Western Sahara. New WSRW report shows that the export volume remained stable throughout 2022.

24 April 2023

Today, Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) publishes its tenth-in-a-row detailed, annual overview of the companies involved in the purchase of phosphates from occupied Western Sahara. The illegally exploited phosphate rock is one of the Moroccan government’s main sources of income from the territory it holds contrary to international law. 

Download the report here.

In 2022, a total of 23 vessels departed the territory with 1.23 million tonnes of phosphate rock, a slight decrease from the 1.4 million tonnes of 2021. The practical doubling of global phosphate prices during 2021 as a consequence of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, means that Morocco's illegal exports have become increasingly lucrative. Morocco’s exact income from the Bou Craa mine is a guestimate, as the exact price of the Western Sahara rock is not known. However, data that WSRW has obtained through the years reveals that the price for phosphate rock from the territory is substantially higher than the international market price.  

Employing the same calculation as in previous years, WSRW would estimate that Morocco’s income from Western Sahara’s white gold could have been as high as 655.5 million USD for 2022. 

But Morocco seeks to make its illegal trade in Western Sahara's conflict mineral even more profitable. Since 2011, the kingdom has been investing heavily in the phosphate port and facilities in the last colony in Africa. Ever since the start of the occupation in 1975, Morocco has only sold raw phosphate rock. In a few years from now, the phosphates will also be exported in a more valuable, processed form. 

In spite of earlier promises to no longer source phosphate rock from Western Sahara, the US company Innophos Holdings has now become the largest importer from the occupied territory Sahara into Mexico. The Mexican imports constituted 41.6 % of all rock exported from the occupied territory in 2022. Innophos had announced in 2018 that it had stopped such imports due to its “commitment to overall social responsibility”, and now fails to respond to mails on the resumption of the controversial trade. 

The report also documents that:

  • The imports to India, Mexico and New Zealand constitute over 92% of the entire trade with Western Sahara conflict minerals.
  • After a hiatus of six years, Incitec Pivot took another shipment into Australia. The company failed to respond to a request from WSRW.
  • For the first time ever, WSRW has observed a shipment to Israel.
  • Neither China Molybdenum nor EuroChem repeated their imports during 2022.
  • In New Zealand, Ravensdown apparently continues to explore ways to avoid Western Sahara rock, which is commendable. Ballance Agri-Nutrients shows the opposite trend, with a continued high level of imports.

After vessels transporting Western Saharan phosphate were detained in Panama and South Africa in 2017, no shipments have gone via Cape of Good Hope or through the Panama Canal. 

WSRW calls on all companies involved in the trade to immediately halt all purchases and all shipments of Western Sahara phosphates until a solution to the conflict has been found. Investors are requested to engage or divest unless action is taken.

Previous editions of the P for Plunder report can be found here.

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