Swiss fertiliser traders implicated in human rights violations in Morocco

Response by OCP (21.06.2019)

The Moroccan state-owned company OCP is polluting the air with its fertiliser factories, thereby harming the health of its employees and of the local population. According to a new report by Bread for all, SWISSAID and Catholic Lenten Fund at least eleven Swiss commodity traders have a commercial relationship with OCP which means they are implicated in human rights violations and environmental pollution in Morocco. This underlines the urgency of the Responsible Business Initiative that will be at issue once again in the National Council next week.

The fertiliser factories of the OCP (Office Chérifien des Phosphates) in Safi and Jorf Lasfar on Morocco’s Atlantic coast emit large quantities of air pollutants, such as hydrogen fluoride and fine particles. This environmental pollution has an enormous impact on the health of OCP’s employees and of people living in the vicinity of the factories where Moroccan phosphate is made into fertiliser.

According to a new report by the development organisations SWISSAID, Bread for all and Catholic Lenten Fund large numbers of employees of the two factories suffer from bronchial diseases and cancers. Reports by trade unions say that many of them have already died. Measurements of the air quality in the vicinity of the OCP factory in Safi revealed high values: fine particle (PM2.5) pollution was between 6 and 16 times higher than the daily guideline value recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Villagers in the vicinity of the two fertiliser factories are also seriously affected by the environmental pollution. Many of the people interviewed by the authors of the report suffer from eye irritation, bronchial diseases and dental fluorosis. Children in villages near the Jorf Lasfar plants reported that they had to cover their noses with a cloth on the way to school because of the acrid smell.

Swiss commodity traders implicated

OCP is the world’s biggest producer of phosphorite and the second biggest manufacturer of phosphate fertilisers. It has a subsidiary in Geneva in the shape of Saftco SA, which marketed more than 300,000 tonnes of fertiliser in 2017. The report shows that in addition to Saftco at least ten other Swiss commodity traders have commercial relations with OCP. None of these firms appears to have conducted a due diligence process with regard to the compliance of their Moroccan suppliers with environmental standards and human rights.

And yet this is precisely what was recommended in a guidance on implementing the UN guiding principles on business and human rights published last year by SECO and the FDFA for the commodity trading sector, which has a strong presence in Switzerland with about 570 businesses. This shows once again that government recommendations and voluntary measures by the firms are of little use by themselves in guaranteeing compliance with human rights and environmental standards when Swiss enterprises do business abroad.

Bread for all, SWISSAID and Catholic Lenten Fund call on OCP and the Swiss fertiliser traders to conduct comprehensive due diligence and to take the appropriate measures to avoid human rights violations. This is also the aim of the Responsible Business Initiative, whose purpose is to oblige Swiss businesses to comply with human rights and environmental standards all over the world. The National Council will discuss the initiative and a counter proposal once again next week. If the counter proposal is not accepted, the initiative is expected to be put to a popular vote in 2020.

Download: Full report (PDF, french)

Summary (english)