The Western Sahara independence movement is taking court action against the New Zealand Super Fund over its investment in farms, which use phosphate mined in the disputed region.
The movement’s representative Kamal Fadel has asked for a High Court judicial review of the Fund’s investments.
The claim stated the Fund was exposed through its investments in farms that use Western Saharan phosphate, and interests in companies operating in the occupied territory.
Fertiliser companies Ravensdown and Ballance Agri-Nutrients in New Zealand are the only companies in the western world which import phosphate, which is spread on farms.
The former Spanish colony in North Africa was claimed by Morocco in 1975, a move condemned by the UN.
Fadel warned of impending court action last year, saying the movement had been successful in multiple international courts, which ruled Morocco had no legal claim to the phosphate, so could not sell it.
The movement’s claim to the High Court said the Fund’s involvement was inconsistent with statutory obligations to manage and administer the Fund in a manner ‘consistent with avoiding prejudice to New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible member of the world community’.
“The Sahrawi people are determined to protect their natural resources with all available means,” Fadel said.
“This legal action is a message to all who are involved in the exploitation of Sahrawi natural resources that they face legal action, reputational risks and investor withdrawal.”
The Guardians of NZ Superannuation – which manage the Fund – rejected the allegations.
“We take our obligations as a responsible investor very seriously,” a spokesperson said.
“The Guardians believe it has appropriately applied its Responsible Investment Framework in a manner that meets its legislative obligations to manage the Fund in a manner consistent with best practice portfolio management and avoiding prejudice to New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible member of the world community.”
A recent review looked at whether the framework was consistent with ‘avoiding prejudice to New Zealand’s reputation as a responsible member of the world community’ and it concluded its approach was “impressive”, the Guardians said.
Fadel recently visited New Zealand to try and persuade entities to stop importing the phosphate.
He said the mine in Bou Craa Western Sahara was illegally occupied by Morocco, and its continued viability was incentive for Morocco to stay put.
“This encourages Morocco to continue delaying a referendum under the auspices of the United Nations that would allow Western Sahara to assert its independent sovereignty.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said New Zealand companies should be looking for alternatives to phosphate and companies importing from Western Sahara did so at their own risk.
The High Court hearing is expected to be heard later this year.
This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.