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Will the camel get a vote?




Ali the camel attended Incitec-Pivot’s AGM at the Exhibition Centre, Southbank in Melbourne on Thursday 20 December. Ali represents the right of the Saharawi people to have a say in what happens in their country.

Ali and the Australia Western Sahara Association (AWSA) were asking the Australian fertiliser firm IPL to put on hold imports of phosphate mined in Western Sahara sold illegally by Morocco.

Most phosphate used in Australian superphosphate fertiliser comes from Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory which the United Nations says has the right to self-determination. In international law such a country’s natural resources cannot be taken without the consent of its local population, in this case, the Saharawi people. But it’s Morocco, the occupying power, which is selling their phosphate, although no country in the world recognises Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara. Incitec-Pivot supplies 60% of Australian superphosphate.

In October 2006 the Australian government, warned Australian companies about the risks of taking part in this trade and recommending that companies seek legal advice before importing material from Morocco sourced in Western Sahara.

On 3 December 2007 a Norwegian bank took Wesfarmers out of its investment portfolio on account of its fertiliser subsidiary CSBP, another Australian phosphate importer. “KLP excludes the fertiliser producer Wesfarmers as a result of illegal import of phosphate from Western Sahara. The area is occupied by Morocco, and in 2002 the UN declared all extraction of natural resources in West Sahara as illegal”, an article states in the Norwegian business daily, Dagens Næringsliv on 3 December

The Australia Western Sahara Association is calling upon Australian fertiliser companies to consider their position in relation to international law. “If they wait until the vote of self-determination in Western Sahara has taken place, then they will know with whom they can deal over the purchase of phosphate and other natural resources”, said Cate Lewis, secretary of the Victorian branch of AWSA.

The Saharawis living under the Moroccan occupation face daily human rights abuses, while those who fled to neighbouring Algeria have been living under harsh conditions in refugee camps for over 30 years. A military wall running the length of the country divides these people. “We believe Australian farmers do not want to fertilise their land with the Saharawis’ blood and tears. Instead they could use their muscle to help bring justice to the Saharawi people and inaugurate a legitimate trade in the natural resources of Western Sahara”, Ms Lewis suggested.

Incitec Pivot has the chance to avoid being blacklisted by ethical investment advisors by putting further imports of the disputed phosphate on hold.