NGO raises concerns over certification of Moroccan solar projects in occupied Western Sahara citing intl. law & lack of consultations

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited Vigeo Eiris and MASEN to respond to the concerns raised by Western Sahara Resource Watch. Vigeo Eiris' response provided below.  We will indicate whether MASEN responds.

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Company response
6 April 2017

Vigeo Eiris response to Western Sahara Resource Watch rejoinder #2

Author: Vigeo Eiris

We have provided three responses in this correspondence already and the latest letter from WSRW does not appear to raise new questions...We have explained that we are of opinion that the solar and wind energy projects have general public benefits through carbon reduction and also can drive the improvement of people’s living conditions and that we will monitor, as we do for all bonds issuers, Masen’s commitment and capacity to report on the socio-economic conditions of the local populations. We do not believe that international law or other human rights due diligence require us to seek any particular consent to carry out the work we have undertaken, and we have also emphasised that to date no authorised international institution has declared Masen’s projects to be in breach of international law. Our focus remains the provision of independent research to investors and companies who wish to take account of ESG factors in their decision making. We have been clear that we do not seek to intervene on the disputed future status of Western Sahara/Southern Provinces of Morocco nor on the best way to achieve the self determination of the people. We have said that we are aware that this is as a matter for the parties and the UN Security Council.

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NGO rejoinder
6 April 2017

Western Sahara Resource Watch rejoinder #2

Author: Western Sahara Resource Watch

Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) notices a letter that your company sent to Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) on 27 February 2017. The purpose of your letter is to comment on the concerns from our association regarding Vigeo Eiris’ certification of green bonds issued for the Moroccan company MASEN in occupied Western Sahara...WSRW still expects to receive an answer to the questions that we have sent to you. We believe that facilitating the financing of Moroccan energy projects in Western Sahara through the issuing of certificates for green bonds is manifestly contrary to the wishes and interests of the people of Western Sahara...

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Article
20 March 2017

Global Compact agrees to mediate in NGO’s Western Sahara green bond dispute with Vigeo Eiris

Author: Daniel Brooksbank, Responsible Investor

The Global Compact, the United Nations’ corporate sustainability body, says it has agreed to mediate in a dispute relating to a Moroccan green bond between campaign group Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) and Vigeo Eiris, the environmental, social and governance research house.The matter centres on a dispute between WSRW and Vigeo Eiris over a green bond launched at the COP22 climate talks last year, which WSRW says is being used to finance solar projects in the Western Sahara area, which the UN classifies as a ‘non-self-governing territory’.The bond in question, a 1 billion dirham (€258m) issue by MASEN, the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy, was underwritten by a Moroccan state guarantee and sold via private placement to domestic banks...WSRW has called for greater scrutiny of the bond’s financing of three solar projects, two of them in locations that are outside Morocco’s internationally recognized borders...Vigeo Eiris’s Webster has told RI that the company doesn’t agree with WSRW’s arguments, saying that they are “missing the target” about alerting investors to any potential risk of the green bond. Webster says the green bond has been issued to a limited group of investors that have decided not to make the verifier’s report public, but who wanted to go through the Climate Bonds Initiative’s verification process in order to make sure the bond achieves carbon reduction targets...[Subscription required to read full article]

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Company response
28 February 2017

Vigeo Eiris response to Western Sahara Resource Watch rejoinder

Author: Vigeo Eiris

[W]e are pleased to provide you and Mr Hagen with the following comments:..We are convinced that the realisation of investments enabling the production of a green and renewable energy intrinsically represents a positive contribution to the achievement of the environmental objectives of sustainable development. In addition, these investments can drive the improvement of populations’ living conditions, within or outside the internationally recognised borders of Morocco...We have not collected or observed any material element suggesting the opposition of citizens, associations, political parties or labor unions, against Masen’s solar and wind energy infrastructure projects...We may have to agree to disagree on the question of whether as an independent research provider we should be acting as verifier to this kind of projects and we respect the right of Mr Hagen to take a different view...

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NGO rejoinder
28 February 2017

Western Sahara Resource Watch rejoinder to Vigeo Eiris

Author: Erik Hagen, Western Sahara Resource Watch

"Re: Vigeo Eiris Maroc certification of bonds for energy production in occupied Western Sahara", 14 Feb 2017

[A]s [Vigeo Eiris's previous] letter to BHRRC fails to address the questions we raised in our letter to you, we take it for granted that this letter we now observe on BHRRC‘s website is not an answer to our letter to you of 23 December 2016. With this letter to Vigeo Eiris today, we underline that we look forward to receiving an answer to our letter and the questions that we raise. It is a matter of urgency to us and to the people of Western Sahara. While awaiting your response, we want to comment on some aspects of your letter to BHRRC...What we are questioning is how come Vigeo Eiris has proceeded to certify these projects in the first place. We contend that Vigeo Eiris does not have the right to facilitate Moroccan government projects in Western Sahara – outside of Morocco’s international borders – without first seeking the consent of the representatives of the people of the territory...Vigeo Eiris is applying even more pro-Moroccan terminology and representations of the conflict than it had already done in the past. We lament Vigeo Eiris’s continued use of such terminology...Based on your letter to BHRRC, we remain concerned about Vigeo Eiris’s minimising of its own responsibilities...WSRW would like Vigeo Eiris to forward to us the material and information that you send to investor and corporates regarding the bonds and projects in Western Sahara...

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Company response
31 January 2017

Vigeo Eiris response

Author: Vigeo Eiris

In November 2016, Vigeo Eiris was commissioned by Masen to provide a Verification on the compliance of its bond issuance with the framework of the Climate Bond Initiative (CBI)...Our conclusions, which express a reasonable level of assurance on this bond’s contribution to the fight against climate change, were submitted to Masen on October 7th 2016...Our firm opinon remains that the solar projects and renewable energies aimed at being financed by Masen have an inherent positive impact on sustainability. What is more, Vigeo Eiris attaches the utmost importance to human rights, including the responsibilities of companies operating in disputed territories – and the agency is extremely attentive to companies’ responsibility to prevent human rights violations, as well as respect and promote human right issues throughout their value chain...While taking note of Mr. Hagen’s standpoint, we reaffirm our position on the statements above and confirm that we do not consider it possible or appropriate to withdraw Masen’s certification...We take this opportunity to reaffirm our position on the importance of integrating a review of the social responsibility profile of issuers as well as the social and environmental impacts of the projects aimed at being financed by green and/or social bonds, into the principles underlining the green bond assessment...

Previous letter (Dec 2016)

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Article
31 January 2017

Western Sahara Resource Watch raises concerns around Vigeo Eiris Maroc's certificaton of green bonds in occupied territory

Author: Western Sahara Resource Watch

"WSRW concerned: Vigeo Eiris greenwashes dirty energy on occupied land", 23 Dec 2017

International investors have shied away from funding Morocco's dirty 'green' energy in occupied Western Sahara. But a Moroccan subsidiary of the French-UK firm Vigeo Eiris has stepped in to certify the bonds which will secure the necessary financing...On 7 November it was known that the Moroccan subsidary of Vigeo Eiris had certified so-called green bonds for the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN) for Moroccan solar projects that will be built on two locations in Western Sahara...Western Sahara Resource Watch (WSRW) sent a first letter to Vigeo Eiris on 18 November 2016 requesting whether the information could be true that a Moroccan subsidiary of Vigeo Eiris indeed was certifying something that apparently is against the same principles that it advocates for elsewhere.Vigeo Eiris responded on 19 December. Vigeo Eiris surprisingly noted that it could be seen as an political statement to not take on an assignment in Western Sahara. Today, WSRW sent Vigeo Eiris a follow-up letter with questions regarding the contract, its policies and its interpretation of international law applicable to Western Sahara.In its letter, WSRW demanded Vigeo Eiris to cancel the certification, based on the principles outlined and decided in the judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU...

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Article
30 January 2017

Full letter from Western Sahara Resource Watch outlining concerns

Author: Erik Hagen, Western Sahara Resource Watch

We have for reply your letter dated this 19 December, in response to ours of 17 November 2016. Thank you for taking the time to write...We fail to understand why the CBI principles to which you refer are relevant to the question of how come Vigeo Eiris would certify Moroccan projects outside of that country. Environmental sustainability is evidently important, but that is not what is at issue in our correspondence. We express some doubt over the claims that Vigeo Eiris is supportive to human rights, and propose to address the matter below...

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