Protesters block fertiliser headquarters in bid to stop shipment of 'blood phosphate' from Western Sahara
A New Zealand group fighting for the rights of indigenous people in Western Sahara protested outside a fertiliser company’s headquarters, calling on the company to stop importing the “immoral” phosphate from a war-stricken country.
Western Sahara is a disputed area, but New Zealand fertiliser companies Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients import about $30 million of phosphate from there each year, which is used on New Zealand soils.
After the Western Sahara freedom movement lost the bid for a judicial review of the Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation in March over its investments in fertiliser imports from the area, Tauranga-based Ballance Agri-Nutrients has continued to import the phosphate and is due to receive a shipment of the phosphate at the Port of Tauranga.
Ballance Agri-Nutrients says all its products are responsibly sourced and its phosphate supplier – Phosboucraa, a subsidiary of OCP – scores “highly as a supplier and has been a reliable partner for decades”.
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* Ravensdown asked to hand over $7m to Saharawi Government
Protesters from Western Sahara Solidarity Aotearoa and Extinction Rebellion gathered outside its headquarters in Mount Maunganui on Saturday, urging the company to stop importing the phosphate rock plundered by Morocco.
About 40 protesters laid down tripods made from bamboo at the entrance and chained people across the main gate in an attempt to blockade the headquarters on Hewletts Rd.
Some were also holding signs such as “Blood on your hands Ballance” or “Ban Blood Phosphate” as trucks tried to move through the crowd chanting “Freedom for Western Sahara”.
“We are here to stand up to Ballance for its crimes against indigenous peoples,” Western Sahara Solidarity Aotearoa spokesperson Josie Butler told Stuff.
“The people of Whareroa Marae are being poisoned by Ballance daily by the factory’s fumes in the air, and a ship of stolen phosphate from the indigenous people of Western Sahara is due to arrive in the Port of Tauranga.
“The people of Western Sahara are victims of war at Morocco’s hands, which Ballance is directly funding.”
She said the Tauranga headquarters was the only factory she had heard of to still be shipping the “blood phosphate” while discussions are being had about the morals of its trade.
“The continued trade is a shameful move both for Ballance Agri-Nutrients and New Zealand.”
She urged Ballance to talk with representatives of Western Sahara – advice “they’ve ignored in the past, she said – before New Zealand’s reputation is put at risk.
She also demanded Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta take action for indigenous people suffering at Ballance’s hands.
“Nanaia promised at my marae, Te Tii Waitangi, to promote indigenous rights globally. There are Māori people being poisoned and an indigenous population suffering war crimes because of her inaction.”
The protest ended in the afternoon after Butler claimed Ballance CEO Mark Wynne spoke with them.
They managed to negotiate that they would put down their blockade if Wynne would meet with the ambassador of Western Sahara, Butler said.
However, in a statement a Ballance Agri-Nutrients spokesperson said Wynne had not agreed to meet with the political lobbyist from Sydney because “they are a commercial company, not a political organisation”.
The protesters did not disrupt any of the company’s operations.
“We did everything we could to ensure their safety, and the safety of our staff, contractors and onlookers. However, we were shocked and dismayed by the unsafe behaviour of the protesters who put themselves and others at risk.”
All profits made by Phosboucraa in the Sahara are reinvested locally to maintain and improve its operations and to support the region, the spokesperson said.
“OCP provide regular updates about employment practices, health and safety, benefits to local people and investment in health, education and social programmes.
“We, and the New Zealand fertiliser industry, receive ongoing challenges from political protesters.
“The protesters don't appear to consider the risk of ceasing trade to the livelihoods of the Saharawi who are employed by OCP.
“It is not clear how the loss of jobs in a volatile part of the world would progress the issue of Western Sahara’s political status.”
Seeing “no value in engaging in highly emotive political conversation that has been dismissed by our High Court” they have instead directed their attention towards supporting the UN in its efforts to resolve this complex geopolitical dispute, the spokesperson said.