Blatant Disregard or Inadequate Advice? Norwegian Authorities’ Guidance on Fish and Phosphates Extraction from Western Sahara

15 Pages Posted: 8 Oct 2013 Last revised: 9 Oct 2015

Date Written: October 7, 2013


Based on Western Sahara’s status as a non-self-governing territory and the rights of peoples in such territories over their natural resources, the article analyzes the Norwegian policy addressing Norwegian business enterprises operating in Western Sahara. In addition to relevant treaties and resolutions, the article assesses the scope of the revised OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, both adopted in 2011. In both the OECD and UN non-binding standards, enterprises are asked to undertake a human rights due diligence and to prevent adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships. Norway has listed Western Sahara as an exceptional case in its 2009 White Paper on CSR, and made available an explicit recommendation against investing in Western Sahara (‘dissuasion’). However, the text of this dissuasion is far from perfect. First, the text does not refer to international law, but rather refers to the ‘situation’ in Western Sahara. Second, the central feature of the text is whether or not the economic activities promote the ‘interests of the local population’, rather than the rights and wishes of the peoples of the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara. This article also analyzes statements, policies, rejections and secrecy of specific Norwegian companies, showing that some of these companies simply chose to ignore the impact of their conduct towards the original peoples (the Saharawis). This is in clear contradiction to the duty to undertake human rights due diligence and to prevent negative human rights impacts resulting from their operations, as specified in the OECD and UN standards. It must be acknowledged, however, that there are some Saharawis who are collaborating with Moroccan companies, and are receiving substantial financial benefits.

Keywords: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, right to self-determination

JEL Classification: K33, Q23, Q34

Suggested Citation

Haugen, Hans Morten, Blatant Disregard or Inadequate Advice? Norwegian Authorities’ Guidance on Fish and Phosphates Extraction from Western Sahara (October 7, 2013). International and Comparative Corporate Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1-27, Available at SSRN:

Hans Morten Haugen (Contact Author)

VID Specialized University ( email )

P.O.Box 184 Vindern
Oslo, 0319
+4722451797 (Phone)
+4722451950 (Fax)


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