“Why don’t you ask permission?”: speech from Khadja Bedati

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Management Board and Supervisory Board,

My name is Khadja Bedati, I speak for the Saharawi Youth and Ethical Shareholders Germany.

Last year, at the Annual General Meeting, I raised the issue of the cement factory in the Moroccan-occupied areas of Western Sahara.

It is commendable, Dr. Scheifele, that you are in favour of a peaceful and consensual solution to the Western Sahara conflict. You have acknowledged that Ciments du Maroc has built two grinding plants in the area whose international legal status has not been clarified, and that a referendum on this very issue is still pending.

You wanted to visit your grinding plants at the capital of occupied Western Sahara, Laayoune, in September 2018. Did you do that? If so, what was your decision?

I am here again today to put this simple question to you again, and I ask for a clear answer:

Why did you not ask our permission, the permission of the Sahrawi people, to work on our land? Why don’t you see to it that Ciments du Maroc obtains this permission?

You have not yet answered this simple question. We deserve an answer. I am aware that Ciments du Maroc is an independent listed company in Morocco. However, you as board members have a clear responsibility towards the activities of Ciments du Maroc, because you are the majority owner.

What is more, you announced at the end of February that you had sold 7.8 percent of the shares in Ciments du Maroc to Moroccan investors – over the counter. But you still hold 54.6 percent.

Dr. Scheifele, you yourself said, and I quote you:

“HeidelbergCement is fully committed to remain the long-term majority shareholder of Ciments du Maroc, a key strategic asset within the group’s portfolio.“

In your quest for access to Africa, you have decided to ignore the situation in the Western Sahara territories occupied by Morocco and thus international law.

That is why I ask you:

Have you taken into account the situation of the occupied territories of Western Sahara, in particular international law and the legal risks involved in this share transaction? If so, what was your conclusion?

Have the consulting banks, BNP Paribas and BMCI, pointed out the problematic activities of Ciments du Maroc, legal risks and reputation costs?

Now that you want to hold on to Ciments du Maroc in the long term: How will you comply with your human rights due diligence with regard to the activities of Ciments du Maroc? As other companies do, will you carry out an audit?

In order to maintain legal peace and security, should all such projects in areas not be stopped until the question of legal ownership of land and resources has been resolved peacefully and democratically?

For these reasons, the Federal Government of Germany has made it clear that it does not support any economic activities of German enterprises in Western Sahara and that it does not secure any business through export credit and investment guarantees.

For the same reasons, why can HeidelbergCement not order Ciments du Maroc to suspend its activities in the occupied territories until the land issue has been resolved?

The responsible UN Special Representative and former Federal President Horst Köhler is sincerely trying to resolve the conflict through dialogue. However, Germany disqualifies itself as a neutral mediator if companies with majority German ownership consolidate the status quo of the conflict.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

my country is located in Northwest Africa between Morocco, Mauritania and Algeria. “Sahara” means “desert” in Arabic, but our country offers more than drought and sand: waters rich in fish off the coast, oil, iron, gold and the world’s second largest phosphate deposit.

HeidelbergCement ist building grinding plants in a country to which it has no right: my home country, Western Sahara – a country I have never seen before. Like so many of my people who fled the violent invasion of Morocco and the subsequent brutal occupation, I grew up in a refugee camp in Algeria. The entire international community recognises our right to self-determination – our right to determine the future state of our country and its resources. But you have completely ignored us.

You argued last year in response to my speech that Saharauis were employed and that they benefit from it.

Tell this to the Saharauis, who are imprisoned for life because they stand up for our right to self-determination or because they protest against the exploitation of our resources by Morocco – an exploitation that will become even more profitable through the HeidelbergCement mills.

Go there and tell my family that they are benefiting from your activities. They live in a refugee camp and are waiting for a peaceful outcome to the UN-led process, which is repeatedly hindered by companies such as HeidelbergCement, Siemens, and Continental, who have decided to support Morocco without even acknowledging our existence.

And go and tell them in the face, the prisoners and refugees, how your operations are to their advantage.

The value of the phosphate from three shiploads is roughly equal to the amount of humanitarian aid the Sahrawi refugees receive in a year. They are the legal owners of the raw materials. The communities in the areas occupied by Morocco could develop themselves if they had access to their raw materials.

This is not about our supposed advantages – it’s about yours.

The International Court of Justice and the Court of Justice of the European Union agree: Western Sahara is not a part of Morocco. And as such, the European Court of Justice stressed, the people of Western Sahara should be asked for their consent if it is about their resources.

This kind of commitment violates international law. Ladies and gentlemen, HeidelbergCement is thus also disregarding all the beautiful promises made on the websites about its own corporate strategy.

Now I would like to tell you something, and I hope that you will give it some thought, for example on your way back home. I would like to talk briefly about the young people’s point of view. We were patient for 43 years and had to watch with tied hands how life passes us by and is exploited without our co-determination on the basis of purely economic profit considerations.

Our patience has been exceeded. We will not live 43 more years as we do now – you can be sure of that. You sit far away in well-equipped offices in Heidelberg, you cannot imagine what it means to be directly affected.

We do not expect much from the European Union or HeidelbergCement. What we want is for Europe or you not to conclude any agreements with Morocco at our expense. Nothing more, but nothing less.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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