Shareholders welcome transparency, but critical of report
Toronto, ON, July 20, 2016 – In response to a shareholder proposal filed by the United Church of Canada (UCC) and supported by the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE), Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU) has commissioned and published an independent review of the human rights risks related to sourcing phosphate rock from the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara.
Calgary-based Agrium Inc. is one of the world’s largest importers of phosphate rock from Western Sahara, a portion of which is currently controlled by Morocco. Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over the Western Sahara is not recognized by the International Court of Justice or the United Nations, and serious human rights violations have been reported in the territory. It is sometimes called “Africa’s last colony”.
“Although we have concerns about the methodology and analysis in the report, we want to acknowledge the goodwill on Agrium’s part in responding to shareholder concerns about the human rights impacts of its business, and in its commitment to transparency,” said Erik Mathiesen, Chief Financial Officer for the United Church of Canada. A shareholder proposal filed by the UCC for the 2015 annual meeting received 11.96% of the vote. A proposal filed for this year’s AGM was withdrawn following productive discussions with the company.
“We are disappointed, however, that the reviewers appear to have done the bulk of their interviews in the presence of management of the Moroccan state-owned mining company, which could limit the candidness of responses from the local population, especially amongst employees,” said Mathiesen. “The reviewers also dismiss concerns about the impacts of current resource extraction on the Saharawian peoples’ right to self-determination, arguing essentially that even if the resources are stripped from the territory prior to a political settlement, that can be compensated with money if need be.”
“The reviewers took a very narrow view of the law surrounding extraction of resources from conflicted areas,” said Kevin Thomas, Director of Shareholder Engagement at the Shareholder Association for Research and Education (SHARE) which is advising a group of Agrium shareholders concerned about the human rights implications of the company’s supply chain. “The United Nations, the African Union and other international bodies have all stressed the need to address the interests and wishes of the Saharawian people regarding resource extraction in the disputed territory. This report suggests that the provision of local employment and infrastructure is sufficient to address those concerns, something with which leading human rights experts disagree.”
“While we see the analysis as flawed and therefore consider this as a flawed report,” Thomas said, “we will continue to discuss ongoing actions with Agrium to address the company’s responsibility to respect human rights in what has become a very volatile human rights situation.”
For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Norah Murphy, Communications Officer, Shareholder Association for Research & Education [email protected] | 604-695-2026
Although its political status is unresolved, and a military conflict has driven a sizeable portion of Western Sahara’s original population into refugee camps outside of the territory, a Moroccan state-owned company is mining the territory for phosphate rock, a mineral used to produce food-grade phosphoric acid. That rock is sold to international buyers like Agrium Inc. and Potash Corporation.
The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs determined that “if … 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 principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non Self-Governing Territories.” Last year, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also called on Morocco to respect the free, prior and informed consent of the Saharan people regarding the use of their natural resources.
The shareholder proposal asked Agrium to commission and make public an independent assessment of its own human rights responsibilities in relation to sourcing phosphate rock from Western Sahara, having regard to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and associated international human rights standards. It was withdrawn following productive dialogue with Agrium Inc.
About SHARE (Shareholder Association for Research & Education)
SHARE is a Canadian leader in responsible investment services, research and education for institutional investors. Since its creation as a non-profit organization in 2000, SHARE has provided proxy voting analysis, shareholder engagement, education, policy advocacy, and practical research on issues related to responsible investment. SHARE’s clients include pension funds, mutual funds, foundations, faith-based organizations and asset managers across Canada with more than $14 billion in assets under management.
www.share.ca | @share_ca
About the United Church of Canada
The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. We minister to over 2 million people in about 3,000 congregations. The history of the United Church is closely entwined with the history of Canada itself.