Ballance Agri-Nutrients say they fully support everyone’s right to protest after a recent demonstration by the Rail and Maritime Transport Union.
However, the company also made it clear that only the United Nations are capable of coming to a solution on the matter of phosphorous rock being mined in the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
The comments come after RMTU, representing port workers at the Port of Tauranga, delivered a letter of protest to the captain of a ship carrying so called ‘blood phosphate’.
The IVS Phoenix, chartered by Ballance Agri-Nutrients, arrived at the Port of Tauranga on February, 27.
The vessel was carrying 56,000 metric tonnes of phosphate rock mined in the disputed territory of Western Sahara in North Africa.
Western Sahara is a disputed territory in Northern Africa. Morocco governs the territory but the Polisario Front, representing the indigenous Saharawi people, seek independence and consider Moroccan rule an invasion of their territory.
A United Nations mission toward a referendum regarding independence was formed in 1991, but has yet to materialise. A ceasefire in the region collapsed in November.
The conflict and the disputed sovereignty of the area has led to the popularisation of the term ‘blood phosphate’, a phraseology Ballance strongly oppose.
Ballance were keen to stress they are still working within a UN framework for operating economic natural resources activities in a non-self-governing territory.
“We fully respect free speech and the right of everyone to protest, we have, and will continue to engage in open and respectful dialogue,” says Ballance head of communications Aimee Driscoll.
“However, the right place to reach any kind of solution for such a complex geopolitical issue is through the UN. Given that the territory's political status is undecided, we follow the UN guidelines.”
RMTU Organiser Dasha Von Silfhout says in late 2019, the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions passed a resolution condemning Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara as illegal and calling upon the New Zealand government to halt importation of phosphates from the area.
She says the RMTU, a CTU affiliate, registered its protest by visiting the ship and passing on a letter that included the CTU resolution.
Because of Covid-19 protocols the letter was delivered on Monday, March 1, without direct contact between RMTU members and the crew.
The letter was placed into a bucket before being lifted on board for the attention of the captain.
“Our fellow unionists in Australia, the Maritime Union of Australia, have used this method to register protests against Blood Phosphate imports, and it is a pragmatic way to exercise a fundamental democratic right without risking undue disruption.”
The RMTU previously delivered a similar letter in protest at the arrival of the IVS Windsor, another Ballance chartered phosphate shipment, in November of last year.
Dasha did praise Ballance for engaging in constructive dialogue on the issue and for facilitating the peaceful protest.
“Whilst we fundamentally disagree about the importation of blood phosphate, they have been reasonable in facilitating a lawful and safe protest, as have Port of Tauranga management and the shipping agent,” she says.