Illegal Mining in Western Sahara: Canadian government and companies forge ahead with deals despite humanitarian costs to local Indigenous communities

March 15, 2018

*To hear an update on the current situation with Josh Campbell and Jeffrey Smith, register for our online discussion on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 7pm Eastern. Register here.*

 

Originally written on January 26, 2018

 

While Saskatchewan political leaders spout concerns over the westward movement of jobs and head offices, a story of significant global injustice is quietly floating under our noses.


What I’m talking about is how Nutrien, the recently merged PotashCorp of Saskatchewan and Agrium fertilizer giant, is continuing to purchase phosphate rock from Western Sahara, a UN Non-Self Governing Territory which some claim is still Africa’s last colony.

 

It’s not the buying that is the problem. It’s who PotashCorp, Agrium and now Nutrien is buying it from.

 

In 1975, Spain withdrew from its northwest Africa located colony called Spanish Sahara. Despite international pressures to formerly decolonize and offer the indigenous Saharawi people a vote for independence, Spain cut a backroom deal with neighbouring Morocco and left the region. In return for allowing Morocco to invade the region, Spain would receive a 27-year contract of 35 per cent ownership share from the high-grade phosphate mine located in the territory. Morocco’s invasion split the native Saharawi in half, some staying to fight a losing battle and others fleeing amidst napalm air strikes to take refuge in the western Algerian desert. In order to secure their occupation, Morocco would go on to build a 2,400-kilometre long security wall through the middle of the region they now call their southern provinces. The first part of the wall was built around the phosphate mine. It also insured that most of the now 300,000 Saharawi split by the wall, would never see each other again.


It’s the same mine that just sent 59,000 tonnes of phosphate down a 110-kilometre conveyor belt this past December to be picked up by the Ultra Saskatchewan, a 200-metre long bulk ship, which, today, will dock in Vancouver, be rail transported to Redwater, Alberta, and then distributed throughout North America.


And it’s not the first shipment.

 

According to Western Sahara Resource Watch, from January 2013 to December 2017, Agrium and PotashCorp took in 75 of the 186 vessels carrying phosphate rock from the disputed territory. These 75 vessels contained 4.54 million tonnes of rock with an estimated value of $526 million—all of it, paid to Morocco, not the indigenous Saharawi.

 

The injustice of paying a country for a resource that is not theirs was enough for fertilizer giants Yara International and The Mosiac Company to stop phosphate purchases from the area. It also has both the European Union and the United States trade agreements not covering any resources from the region.


The Canadian government has yet to take such action.

 

Until then, it would sure be swell if local media outlets and governments would give even a fraction of the attention to this issue as they are to job losses and head office locations for a newly merged company that is purchasing one of its key ingredients from a highly controversial African territory.

 

A note about the author: Josh Campbell has made a film about this issue called Sirocco: Winds of Resistance. A trailer can be found here: https://vimeo.com/187828022 and more information on the website: www.growingdeception.com.

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