Troubled waters off Western Sahara: Glencore plans to drill in occupied territory

A subsidiary of Glencore has been awarded two petroleum exploration licences off the coast of Western Sahara. The two concessions granted by the occupying power, Morocco, undermine the ongoing UN peace process. If the Swiss commodities giant proceeds with its exploration activities against the wishes of the local population, it will do so in violation of international legal principles.

Zurich/Lausanne, 27th October 2014

In 2013 and 2014, the Moroccan authorities awarded Glencore Production and Exploration (Morocco) Ltd. the drilling permits for two offshore blocks, Foum Ognit and Boujdour Shallow. According to a presentation given by the Zug-based company, the two blocks are located within Moroccan territory. This information is incorrect: the blocks in fact belong to Western Sahara, a country under Moroccan occupation since the colonising power Spain’s departure in 1976. Today, half the Sahrawi population live in refugee camps in Algeria. As long as Morocco is able to profit from Western Sahara’s natural resources through deals with companies such as Glencore, there is no incentive to engage in the 39-year UN peace process. Having provided two mediators, the Swiss authorities have expressed their official support for this process.

Switzerland – alongside most states – does not recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory. The Sahrawi government-in-exile, in contrast, has received diplomatic recognition from 85 states and the African Union. The Switzerland-Morocco free trade agreement does not include Western Sahara for this very reason, as concluded by SECO itself in 2013. In 2010, eight parliamentarians wrote an open letter to Ameropa condemning its phosphate trade. The Swiss trading company subsequently seized importing from the territory. Within this context, the political inertia surrounding Glencore’s activities in Western Sahara can only be explained by the fact that the Swiss authorities (and local population) are ignoring the problematic allocation of these permits to the commodities giant.

In September 2014, the Berne Declaration (BD) proposed a surveillance authority for the commodity-trading sector, the ROHMA. The ROHMA would not have authorised such an affair. According to the proposed principles, Swiss law would prohibit companies based in Switzerland, such as Glencore, from undertaking business in conflict zones, fragile states or occupied territories without direct permission from the authority. Such provisions would help to prevent Swiss companies from engaging in deals that violate the principles of international law or position them as liable for pillage, an offence classified as a war crime under the Swiss penal code.

For more information, please contact:

Oliver Classen, DB Spokesperson, +41 44 277 70 06,

Marc Guéniat, DB Senior Researcher, +41 21 620 03 02,