BHP urged to dump unethical phosphate trade in its takeover of PotashCorp

Australia Western Sahara Association
Press Release, 25 August 2010

The Australia Western Sahara Association today urged BHP-Billiton to suspend PotashCorp’s trade in phosphate from Western Sahara if its takeover bid is successful.

President of AWSA, Lyn Allison, said “If BHP cares anything for business ethics, social responsibility and international law, it will not allow the Canadian fertiliser corporation to buy further Western Saharan phosphate from Morocco.”

Western Sahara Resource Watch has asked for an urgent meeting with BHP in Melbourne, to discuss the human rights element of the possible take-over.

The Canadian fertiliser company is a major importer of phosphate from the disputed territory of Western Sahara occupied by Morocco.

AWSA is the local member of the WSRW international network covering 36 countries around the world asking corporations to cease exploiting Western Sahara’s natural resources until the decolonisation process is complete. Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975, as Indonesia did in East Timor and Iraq in Kuwait.

The Canadian fertiliser company PotashCorp is today the biggest importer of phosphate rock from the territory of Western Sahara, occupied by Morocco. By ignoring calls from investors and WSRW over the trade, PotashCorp has been blacklisted by ethically-minded investors in Europe. Now, this human rights issue could end on BHP’s table.

“The Moroccan export of phosphates from the territory contributes to financing the occupation and appears to condone the poor human rights situation in Western Sahara. BHP should know that it is entering into very unethical territory and ought to take the advice of its ethical adviser, Simon Longstaff at the St James Ethics Centre on how to proceed”, former senator, Lyn Allison, said.

BHP in the 1980s withdrew from oil exploration in the territory due to the political situation and its good reputation would be at risk if PotashCorp was allowed to continue its unethical trade.

In 2002 the UN legal department’s head, Hans Corell, delivered a legal opinion saying that two conditions must be satisfied for any exploitation of resources to be legal, it must follow the wishes of the Saharawi people and the trade must be to their benefit. “We know of no attempt by the Moroccan phosphate company OCP to seek the consent of the Saharawi people to export these phosphates. On the other hand, we are well aware of their constant protests against the plunder of their natural resources,” said Cate Lewis of WSRW.

“On 2 August and 9 August peaceful demonstrations on this very topic were held outside the Ministry of Mines & Energy in El Aaiun (capital of occupied Western Sahara)” she added, “these were broken up brutally by the Moroccan security forces”, see:
http://www.wsrw.org/index.php?parse_news=single&cat=105&art=1554

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British press on BHP takeover bid and human rights
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/potash-bid-drags-bhp-into-saharan-fight-2058622.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/aug/22/bhp-billiton-potash-corp-western-sahara

Reuters has reported the story as well: http://af.reuters.com/article/metalsNews/idAFLDE67L07L20100822

Further information:
http://www.wsrw.org/
http://www.awsa.digipipes.com.au/

Contact
Cate Lewis 0407 288 358 or lewis.cate@gmail.com