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Complaint against Messe Berlin for hosting exhibitor involved in illicit economy in Western Sahara

GLAN and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) released today, 6 September 2019, an open letter to Messe Berlin GmbH, the organiser of the leading Fruit Logistica trade show, and its Ombudsperson. The letter addresses allegations of illegal conduct by one of the show’s exhibitors and Messe’s responsibilities under the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights (UNGP) in relation to their hosting of this business. The French company ‘Azura Group’ is alleged to have been involved in the unlawful import and marketing of products, such as tomatoes, from Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara, where Morocco incentivises business activity while bringing about the forced displacement of the indigenous Sahrawi population. A decision was made to release the letter following an inadequate response by Messe (and no response from Azura Group), in order to highlight the implications of this response for international trade show organisers and their business participants.

In February 2019, GLAN and ECCHR filed a complaint to Messe Berlin GmbH's ombudsperson arguing that the facilitation of exhibitors linked to serious human rights abuses exposes Messe, and unwitting businesses who use the trade show to develop their supply chains, to legal risks. In its response to the complaint, Messe maintained that it does not consider its ‘Code of Conduct for Business Partners’ to be applicable to exhibitors, and therefore does not account for exhibitors’ activities in its human rights due diligence. Messe’s business partner codes maintain that responsible and sustainable supply and value chain management is a core principle that its business partners are required to respect. Azura wrongfully generates revenue from the use of property seized and conveyed to it by the Moroccan authorities without the necessary consent of the Sahrawi representatives as required by international law.

This complaint and engagement with the companies in question is part of our work to challenge illicit economic activities that take place in occupied territories such as Western Sahara. In a number of ongoing situations of occupations, the very maintenance of foreign occupation undermines the collective rights of the indigenous population and, in some cases, also furthers illegal claims to their territory through its annexation. GLAN has investigated and analysed the transnational supply and value chains of agricultural and industrial companies with operations in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara with the aim of both communicating the associated legal risks to companies and bringing cases before state authorities that subject such transnational dealings to regulation under domestic laws. As part of this work, GLAN and Sahrawi NGOs filed a complaint to the Irish OECD National Contact Point about the operations of the Irish oil company San Leon Energy plc.

Read the open letter here.

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