One of Norway’s largest insurance companies, KLP Kapitalforvaltning (KLP), announced this week that it was removing a company from its investment portfolio because it was engaging the illegal phosphate trade in the Western Sahara.
According to a press release, Incitec Pivot – an Australian firm – is being excluded from KLP’s investment portfolio “because it imports phosphatic stone from West Sahara, which is occupied by Morocco. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has established that Morocco has no legal claim on West Sahara and therefore neither on West Saharan natural resources.”
”The extraction of natural resources from occupied areas, in particular West Sahara, was also declared illegal in 2002 by the UN Deputy Secretary General for Legal Issues. KLP has already excluded one company for the same reason”, says Jeanett Bergan, Manager Responsible Investments, KLP.
The Western Sahara conflict is one of the last-remaining non-self governing territory issues. It pits a long-time ally of the U.S., Morocco, against a Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, an independence movement that has been fighting for a referendum for some time. The U.S. has tried to broker a referendum process, at one point led by former Secretary of State James Baker III, but the parties have failed to reach an agreement on voter registration and elections.
In recent years NGOs and other leaders, with some support from many Members of the U.S. Congress from both political parties, have created a divestiture effort to discourage companies from investing in the Western Sahara. Based in large part on a 2002 legal opinion issued by the UN Office of Legal Affairs, various companies have pulled out from natural resource exploration efforts that include petroleum.
The time is ripe for the implementation of a clear and transparent plan for a referendum that establishes goals, obligations, and, should the parties fail to meet their obligations, repercussions. The Baker Plan referendum provides the roadmap. This should be followed by what former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton has repeatedly recommended—that the Western Sahara be “flooded” with international election observers.
The voter lists have been compiled. One day is all that would be needed to complete a free and fair referendum. But is the political will there? Until that time, the divestiture efforts make sense and will keep pressure on the parties, including the UN, to bring this matter to a closure.
For more information on U.S. efforts on the Western Sahara matter, be sure to visit the Defense Forum Foundation website, here.