P for plunder morocco’s exports of phosphates from occupied Western Sahara, 2012 & 2013



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       P 

   FOR

PLUNDER

Morocco’s exports 

of phosphates from 

occupied Western 

Sahara, 2012 & 2013

Fertilizer companies from a dozen countries 

import controversial phosphate rock from 

Western Sahara, under illegal Moroccan 

occupation. This report shows which. 

WSRW REPORT — JUNE 2014

PUBLISHED: 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

12 JUNE 2014

Published with generous 

financial support from The 

Norwegian Confederation of 

Trade Unions (LO)

PHOTOS:  

BERSERK PRODUCTIONS (P.1),  

WSRW.ORG (P.2, 3, 19, 20, 27, 28), 

ROBIN MAINDONALD (P.18A),  

RICK VOICE (P.18B),  

JOHN TORDAI (P.25)

FRONT PAGE:

World’s longest conveyor belt 

transports phosphate rock from 

Bou Craa mines to the coast.

ISBN: 


978-82-999672-0-4

DESIGN: 


LARS HØIE

The report can be freely reused, in 

print or online. For comments or 

questions on this report contact 

coordinator@wsrw.org

Western Sahara Resource Watch 

(WSRW) is an international 

organisation based in Brussels. 

WSRW is working in solidarity with 

the people of Western Sahara, 

researching and campaigning against 

Morocco’s resource plundering of 

Western Sahara.

www.wsrw.org

www.twitter.com/wsrw

www.facebook.com/wsrw.org

To strengthen our research and 

intensify our international campaigns 

WSRW need your help. Find WSRW 

payment details on www.wsrw.org.



Former phosphate workers protesting in occupied Western Sahara, 2010. 

LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS:



DWT

  

Deadweight tonnes



Mt 

Metric tonnes

OCP 

Office Chérifien des  

 

Phosphates SA

UN 

United Nations

US $ 

United S

All life on the planet, and so all 

agricultural production, depends on 

phosphorus, P. That element is found 

in phosphate rock and turned into 

fertilizers. For the people of Western 

Sahara, their P does not grow into 

benefits. Rather the contrary. 

For the first time, Western Sahara Resource Watch now 

publishes a detailed overview of the companies involved in the 

purchases of the phosphates from occupied Western Sahara. 

The phosphate rock is illegally exploited by the Moroccan 

government in Western Sahara, a territory that it is brutally 

occupying. The exports are Morocco’s main source of income 

from the occupied territories. Representatives of the Saha-

rawis have been consistently outspoken against the trade, 

both in the UN, generally and to specific companies. 

The list we present in this report is complete for the 

calendar years of 2012 and 2013 to the best of our knowledge, 

naming nearly all the shipments of the phosphates from occu-

pied Western Sahara. This report attributes the purchases of 

Morocco’s production in Western Sahara in 2013 to ten named 

and two unknown importers in ten countries internationally. 

The two companies PotashCorp (US) and Lifosa (Lithuania), 

alone, accounted for 50% percent of all purchases.

The report details a total exported volume from Western 

Sahara in 2013 at 2,2 million tonnes, with an estimated value of 

$330 million, shipped in 48 bulk vessels. That is an increase of 

400,000 tonnes from 2012, the report shows.

Of the ten named companies identified as importing phos-

phates in 2013, six are listed on international stock exchanges 

or are majority owned by enterprises which are listed. Four of 

those have been subject to blacklistings by ethically concerned 

investors due to this trade on grounds of human rights or 

international law. The Canadian company Agrium started its 

imports only in September 2013, and has thus yet not been 

subject to known investor exclusions.

Of the remaining four companies not registered on any 

stock exchange, two are farmer owned cooperatives in New 

Zealand, while the two remaining are fully or partially owned 

by the Government of Venezuela. 

In addition to naming the involved companes in a “red list”, 

this report also identifies potential buyers in a yellow “obser-

vation list”, as well as a “green list” of companies previously 

associated with such trade, but which no longer purchase. 

WSRW calls on all companies involved in the trade 

immediately halt all purchases of Western Sahara phosphates 

until a solution to the conflict has been found. Investors are 

requested to engage, or divest unless action is taken. 



EXECUTIVE 

SUMMARY

3

Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara is not rec-

ognised by any state, nor by the UN. Its claims were rejected 

by the International Court of Justice. 

The UN Legal Office has analysed the legality of the 



petroleum exploration and exploitation in Western Sahara, 

a resource extraction activity – one now in its exploration 

stages – that is of a similar nature. The UN concluded that “if 

further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed 

in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of 

Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the international 

law principles applicable to mineral resource activities in 

Non-Self-Governing Territories.”

2

Yet, only weeks after the 1975 invasion of the territory, 



the phosphorus of the Bou Craa mine in Western Sahara 

was being exported to fertilizer companies in North America, 

Latin America, Europe and Australasia. The Bou Craa mine is 

managed by the Office Chérifien des Phosphates SA (OCP), 

Morocco’s national phosphate company and is today Morocco’s 

biggest source of income in Western Sahara. 

Phosphates de Boucraa S.A. (Phosboucraa) is a fully 

owned subsidiary of OCP. Its main activities are the extraction, 

beneficiation, transportation and marketing of phosphate ore 

of the Bou Craa mine, as well as the port and treatment plant 

located on the Atlantic coast, at El Aaiun. OCP claims that the 

Bou Craa mines represent 1.6% of the phosphate reserves 

exploited by Morocco.

3

  



OCP claims that Phosboucraa is the largest private 

employer in the area, with over 2100 employees – more than 

half of those are said to be locally recruited. It also claims 

that Phosboucraa is a major provider of economic viability and 

well-being of the region’s inhabitants. OCP equally boasts the 

social impact of Phosboucraa, in terms of providing pensions to 

retirees, medical and social advantages to employees, retirees 

and their families, etc.

4

Upon making these claims, several of the importers 



mentioned in this report, as well as OCP, refer to confidential 

analyses made by the law firms Covington & Burling and DLA 

Piper, as well as to an audit report by KPMG. WSRW has asked 

the importers, as well as Covington & Burling and OCP for cop-

ies of these assessments, but the requests have been rejected 

or not answered.

5

 Saharawis have asked OCP for these reports 



regarding how they benefit according to these reports, but 

the requests are not answered. OCP has even proceeded to 

demand that Youtube block a video in which a Saharawi asks 

for the opinion from their law firm.

6

 Representatives of the 



Saharawi people object to the trade. The secrecy surrounding 

the OCP reports makes them impossible to verify. All suggest 

that Saharawis have not been consulted in the making of the 

terms of reference for such reports. 



THE 

CONTROVERSY 

4

“Western Sahara has been under Moroccan 

occupation since 1975 and is on the 

United Nations’ list of non-self-governing 

territories that should be decolonised. 

The UN’s legal counsel stated in January 

2002 that exploration of mineral resources 

in Western Sahara without local consent 

would be in breach of the International 

Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and 

the International Covenant on Economic, 

Social and Cultural Rights.”

Swedish government pension fund, AP-Fonden, upon exclusion of 

PotashCorp and Incitec Pivot from its portfolios.

7

 



“[The company] imports natural resources 

which are extracted in conflict with human 

rights norms.”

 

The largest bank in Denmark, Danske Bank, upon divesting from 



PotashCorp, Wesfarmers, FMC Corp and Incitec Pivot, 2009.

8

 



“The company is thus indirectly funding 

Morocco’s illegal occupation of the territory. 

In an opinion, issued in 2002, by the UN 

Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs

the exploitation of natural resources in 

colonized territories, Western Sahara in 

particular, was declared illegal if it is 

not to the benefit of the people of the 

territory.”

 

Norwegian insurance company KLP regarding its divestments 



from Wesfarmers, Incitec Pivot, PCS and FMC Corp, 2010.

9

“Since this concerns non-renewable 



resources, these will be lost to the exiled 

local population, even if the territory’s 

status at some time in the future should 

change and the exiled local population 

is able to return. The view of the Council 

on Ethics is therefore that OCP’s activities 

in Western Sahara must be considered 

grossly unethical.”

The Ethical Council of the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, 15 

November 2010, explaining the $ 350 US million divestment from 

PotashCorp and FMC Corp.

10

5


THE 

SHIPMENTS

LYTTELTON

DUNEDIN

BLUFF


NAPIER

TAURANGA


GEELONG

PORTLAND


TUTICORIN

KLAIPEDA


MONTEVIDEO

PUERTO 


CABELLO

VANCOUVER

COATZACOALCOS

POINT 


COMFORT

?

BATON 



ROUGE

BARANQUILLA



In 2013, 2.2 million tonnes of phosphate rock was transported out of Western Sahara. WSRW has traced its route. 

6

LYTTELTON

DUNEDIN


BLUFF

NAPIER


TAURANGA

GEELONG


PORTLAND

TUTICORIN

KLAIPEDA

MONTEVIDEO

PUERTO 

CABELLO


VANCOUVER

COATZACOALCOS

POINT 

COMFORT


?

BATON 

ROUGE

BARANQUILLA



7

THE MOROCCAN 

TAKE-OVER OF  

BOU CRAA 

MINE

1947: 

Western Sahara’s phosphate reserves are discovered 130 

kilometres southeast of El Aaiun in a place called Bou Craa.  

The discovery of phosphate reserves is the first potential 

source of mineral revenues for the colonial power Spain.

11

July 1962: 

The Empresa Nacional Minera del Sahara is founded in order 

to operate the mines, which are owned by a Spanish public 

industrial sector company. 

May 1968: 

The company is renamed Fosfatos de Bucraa, S.A., also known 

as Fos Bucraa. 

1972: 

The Spaniards start to operate the mines. Many Spaniards  

find employment in the mines, as did the Saharawis; the 

native population of the Spanish Sahara, as the territory is 

known at the time.

1974: 

A UN mission that was sent to Spanish Sahara in view of  

an expected referendum predicts that Western Sahara could  

very well become the world’s second largest exporter of 

phosphates, after Morocco.

1975: 

Mounting international pressure to decolonise force Spain  

to come up with a withdrawal strategy from Spanish Sahara. 

Maintaining a claim on the phosphate deposits was a key 

consideration for the colonial power. Failing to decolonise 

Western Sahara properly, by allowing the people of the 

territory to exercise their right to self-determination, Spain 

strikes a deal with Morocco: through the Madrid Accords. 

Spain illegally transfers the administration over the territory 

onto Morocco and Mauritania, while retaining a 35% share 

of the Bou Craa mines. No state in the world, the UN, nor 

the people of Western Sahara, recognised the transfer of 

authority from Spain to the two states. Mauritania withdrew 

in 1979, admitting it had been wrong.

Simultaneously, recouping his authority after two failed 

coups d’état, Morocco’s King Hassan II orders the Moroccan 

army to invade Western Sahara. The King may have hoped 

that this would give Morocco as much leverage to determine 

world phosphate prices as OPEC has over oil prices.

12

 



1 January 1976:

The Madrid Accords come into effect and after a transition 

period of 16 months OCP would take over the management  

of the mines.

13

2002: 

Spain sells its 35% ownership of Bou Craa. 



2014: 

Morocco continues to operate the mine in occupied  

Western Sahara.  

CITY


Refugee camps

CAPITAL


Morocco’s military ‘berm’

WESTERN 


SAHARA

Morocco


The Canary Islands

Bou Craa 

conveyor belt


LARGE EXPORT

Extraction from Bou Craa is according to OCP between 2,5 to 

3 million m³ a year, while stock is estimated at 1,1 billion m³.

14

  



According to WSRW’s findings, the extraction was 1,8 million 

tonnes in 2012, and 2,2 million tonnes in 2013. 

Until 2006 export of phosphate rock averaged 1.1 million 

tonnes annually, considerably less than a production capacity 

of 3.0 million tonnes. In the late 1970s, production stopped for 

three years during armed conflict in the territory, only gradually 

achieving 2.0 million tonnes by the late 1990s. From 2009 

through 2013 production and export has averaged 2.3 to 2.5 

million tonnes annually.  

Bou Craa today contributes around 10% of OCP’s total 

sales of phosphate rock.

LARGE PLANS 

An investment and development program worth 2,45 billion US 

$ has been developed by OCP for the period 2012-2030. In that 

timeframe, the program will aim to modernize the Bou Craa 

mine, develop deeper phosphate layers, create higher add-

ed-value products for exports, increase the El Aaiun harbour 

capacity for phosphate activities and expand the social and 

sustainable development projects in the Bou Craa area.

15

 

OCP states that, as part of its long-term investment 



program, industrial development investments are planned, such 

as mining investments (worth around 250 million US $) that will 

include the building of a flotation/washing unit and upgrading 

of extraction equipment; new infrastructure to extract lower 

phosphate layers.

16

 



PEAK P

Phosphate is a vital component of the fertilisers on which 

much of the global food production and food security depends. 

For some time there has been concern about the world 

population’s reliance on a finite supply of phosphorus, and the 

implications of this for agricultural productivity, food prices and 

nutrition, particularly in developing countries. The term “peak 

phosphorus” has joined the concept of “peak oil” in the lexicon 

of 21st century scarcity. There are no substitutes for phospho-

rus in agriculture.

17

 

Morocco, when Western Sahara is included, holds the 



world’s biggest phosphate reserves and is the third largest 

producer of phosphates in the world.

18

 

The increasing global need for phosphate rock and 



fertilizers was a contributing factor in the oddly flucutating 

market prices of rock since 2008. As global food demand and 

food prices have increased, there has been an added demand 

for phosphate. This price trend remained constant from 2011 

through early 2013 before declining steadily from a start-of-

year $180/tonne to $105/tonne at year-end. In this report, the 

average price of phosphate in 2013 is calculated at $150/tonne. 

The average price in 2012 is calculated at $185/tonne.

450

400


350

300


250

200


150

100


50

0

Jan-06



US $/tonne

Jul-06


Jan-07

Jul-07


Jan-08

Jul-08


Jan-09

Jul-09


Jan-10

Jul-10


Jan-11

World phosphate prices kept stale around 50 dollars/tonne for decades until 2007, when it skyrocketed.  

By 2013, the value is around 150 dollars/tonne. 

(Source: Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, www.phosphorusfutures.net )

Phosphate rock commodity price 

9

THE EXPORTS 2012-2013

2012

2013

Exported amount of phosphate

1,800,000 tonnes

2,200,000 tonnes

Value of exported phosphate

$340 million

$330 million

Estimated cost of production

$80 million

$80 million

Estimated revenue to OCP

$260 million

$250 million

Value of largest single shipment from the territory

$14 million

$12 million

Value of smallest single shipment from the territory

$2.8 million

$1.5 million

Number of ships that departed with phosphate from the territory

47

48

Average amount of phosphate exported in each ship



38,300 tonnes

46,000 tonnes

Average value of phosphate exported in each ship

$7.2 million

$6.9 million

Average annual phosphate price of Bou Craa rock used in 

calculation in this report

$185


$150

METHODOLOGY

This report is made from data gathered 

through continuous vessel tracking. 

Phosphate prices were obtained from the 

commercial commodities pricing website 

“Index Mundi” and checked against other 

sources. The amounts of phosphate loaded 

into ships are generally calculated to be 95% 

of the ship’s overall cargo (and bunker fuel) 

capacity expressed in deadweight tonnes 

(DWT). In cases where ships were less than 

40,000 DWT the 95% factor was reduced 

to account for a higher relative amount of 

fuel and provisions. Ships were tracked 

and confirmed to have arrived at stated 

destinations.

WSRW believes that is has detected and 

accounted for all vessels departing from El 

Aaiun harbour for 2012 and 2013. However, 

WSRW cannot exclude that some vessels 

have not been detected. Vessels from  

1 October 2011 to 31 December 2011 are also 

listed in the Appendix. 

10


Imports per importing Country, 2012 – 2013. Figures in metric tonnes.

Clients per nationality of (parent) company. Figures in metric tonnes.

Value per importing country, 2013. Figures in $ US

Value per nationality of (parent) company, 2013. Figures in $ US

Venezuel

a

147,000


Au

stra

lia

70

,00



0

Other

70,000


Canad

a

270,00


0

New

 

Zea

lan

d

320


,000

Russia

400,000


US

A

27

0,0



00

Au

stra

lia

92

,0



00

Venezuel

a

210,000


Other

378,000


Ru

ss

ia

175


,0

00

Canada

298,000

USA

279,000


New Zealand

34

3,000



Ot

he

r

140


,00

0

Au



stra

lia

70

,0



00

Colombi

a

107,000


Canada

170,000


Mexico

270,00


0


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