Court action possible over 'blood phosphate' purchased by New Zealand companies

KATHRYN GEORGE/STUFF
An epic journey carries phosphate rock from the Western Sahara desert to New Zealand farmland.

New Zealand fertiliser companies buying "blood phosphate" from Western Sahara may face court action.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown have come under pressure in recent months for their $30 million importation of phosphate from the long-disputed African territory.

Kamal Fadel​, a representative of Western Sahara liberation movement Polisario Front, says a legal case against the companies is being considered.

The threat isn't entirely empty, the movement is emboldened by a court decision in South Africa which halted a shipment of phosphate to New Zealand in 2017.

"If we bring a case to court tomorrow against these companies, we will win."

Sydney-based Fadel is visiting Wellington this week to meet with Ministry Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials, MPs and Fertiliser Association of New Zealand (FANZ).

He plans to discuss the decades-long dispute between Morocco and the Sahrawi people over Western Sahara, formerly a colony of Spain. 

The Moroccan administration of the territory has been described as a brutal occupation by international human rights groups, and has had 165,000 Sahrawi flee to refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria as Morocco buries millions of landmines along a military border in the contested land. 

Kamal Fadel a representative from  Western Sahara is in Wellington to discuss New Zealand's phosphate  trade.
MONIQUE FORD/STUFF
Kamal Fadel a representative from Western Sahara is in Wellington to discuss New Zealand's phosphate trade.

Morocco controls 70 to 80 per cent of the world's phosphate, most of it near the Sahara desert and some in Western Sahara.

Ravensdown and Ballance Argi-Nutrients, which manufacture 98 per cent of all fertilisers sold in New Zealand, are two of three buyers of Western Saharan phosphate - the other being a subsidiary of the mine's operator. 

Fadel said purchasing the "blood phosphate" legitimises Moroccan oppression, provides resources to arm the border, delays the peace process and denies resources to a future sovereign Western Sahara. 

Moroccans, who now outnumber Sahrawi 3:1, are the majority of those benefiting from the mine, he said. 

"The responsibility lies with the Government and the New Zealand people. The New Zealand people who, in the morning when they're eating their breakfast, are probably eating a part of our country."

Diammonium phosphate awaiting delivery at a Ravensdown fertiliser manufacturer in Sockburn, Christchurch.
STUFF
Diammonium phosphate awaiting delivery at a Ravensdown fertiliser manufacturer in Sockburn, Christchurch.

He said New Zealand had an international reputation as an upholder of peace, and played an active role in East Timor gaining independence in similar circumstances.  

"This is embarrassing. The writing on the wall is very clear for the companies to stop this illegal plunder. Enough is enough."

 

Saharawian refugees protest the involvement of New Zealand's fertiliser companies in the phosphate trade.
SAHARAWI CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE PLUNDER/SUPPLIED
Saharawian refugees protest the involvement of New Zealand's fertiliser companies in the phosphate trade.

Ballance Agri-Nutrients chief executive Mark Wynne most recently visited Western Sahara in June, and is confident the mine meets international, national and local laws, and regulations. 

Mine operator OCP Group extracts Western Saharan phosphate through a subsidiary said to retain and locally reinvest 100 per cent of all profits. 

FANZ chief executive Dr Vera Power, who has also visited the mine, said the trade was legal and any further comment on court action would be speculative.

"It's a very difficult long-running conflict, it's very challenging for all parties."

​FANZ is funded by the two fertiliser companies, both who continue to import Western Saharan phosphate as it was of a quality that suited their manufacturing conditions. 

It "couldn't easily be substituted" by phosphate bought elsewhere, Power said. 

 She was looking forward to meeting Fadel to hear his views.

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