Young woman in the foreground, camp in the background.

Western Sahara: Less phosphate mining, new Swiss company

In the fight against illegal resource extraction, the Sahrauis have achieved a partial success. Never before has so little phosphate been exported from the Morocco occupied Western Sahara, reports Western Sahara Resource Watch. More and more companies are avoiding the exportgood. The situation would be even better if a Swiss company didn't jump into the breach.

Last year, 19 shiploads with a total of around one million tonnes of phosphate left Western Sahara. This means that the export volume has shrunk by 0.8 million tonnes compared with the annual average of the last six years. This is what the current report says "P for Plunder" by Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) in which terre des hommes schweiz was also involved. The organisation monitors the exploitation of resources in the West African territory occupied by Morocco. According to the UN, the exploitation of resources against the will of the Sahrawi people is against international law.

Switzerland makes no contribution
The decline in phosphate exports is mainly due to the stop of imports into the USA and Canada. The Nutrien Group gave in to the great pressure against its ethically and legally questionable business in the Western Sahara. Nutrien thus joins the various groups that have ceased trading in the conflict mineral since 2011. According to research by WSRW, 15 companies worldwide exported the conflict phosphate from Western Sahara at that time. Today there are still six to seven. The conflict phosphate goes to India, New Zealand, China and Brazil.

Unfortunately, Switzerland cannot boast of having contributed to the decline. Last November, Nova Marine Carriers SA, a logistics company based in Lugano, transported an estimated 54,400 tonnes of phosphate from the port of El Aaiun in the occupied Western Sahara to Paradip in India on the ship Sierre Tis. Nova Marine Carriers SA is not the only Swiss company involved in the illegal phosphate trade from Western Sahara. The Swiss LafargeHolcim Group maintains close business relations with the Moroccan royal family there: both own one half each of LafargeHolcim Maroc, which built the phosphate in El Aaiun. terre des hommes switzerland pursues the activities of Swiss companies in Western Sahara.

More profit than aid
Despite a decline, the profit from phosphate exports for the occupying power Morocco still amounts to 90 million US dollars. This amount is in stark contrast to the 37 million US dollars in aid that Algeria received from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) last year. The Sahrawi refugee camps in western Algeria also depend on this pot. The displaced people there are now in their third generation. terre des hommes switzerland runs projects in the refugee camps for the support of the adolescent youth.

The role of the importing countries and companies in the forgotten conflict in Western Sahara has been the subject of repeated international criticism. Morocco has occupied part of Western Sahara since 1975, but no state in the world recognizes Morocco's territorial claims. The legal basis is clear: exploitation of resources in a non-self-governed territory, such as Western Sahara, is contrary to international law if it takes place against the will of the people concerned. The Sahrawi people have repeatedly spoken out explicitly against resource exploitation and, in general, against corporate activities by Moroccan and other foreign companies in occupied Western Sahara.

Dossier on resource extraction in Western Sahara
Resource exploitation in Western Sahara, background and Swiss companies (PDF)
P for looting 2019 - Summary in German (PDF)

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