The Norwegian fertiliser producer Yara has succumbed to criticism that it ignored sanctions on Belarus and has announced it will cease to sourcing potash fertiliser from the Belarusian state-owned company Belaruskali, the company said on its website on January 10.
The company was reacting to criticism it had received for continuing to do business with Belarus after the US and EU imposed harsh sanctions on the country last year after the strongman leader Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on pro-democracy protests that broke out following a disputed presidential election. Sanctions against the state-owned Belarusian potash producer Belaruskali, one of the country’s biggest cash cows, have negatively affected Yara’s supply-chain to such an extent that management has decided to cease doing business with Belarus.
Yara has "sought positive change by leveraging its presence in Belarus to promote occupational safety and human rights", the statement said. The sanctions have reduced the company’s ability to "positively influence the safety and well-being of Belaruskali workers". Yara intends to continue its industrial safety programme at Belaruskali, which it initiated in 2021, the company said. The programme is run in close co-operation with the independent trade union Belarus Independent Trade Union (BITU) as well as in full compliance with applicable sanctions according to the president & CEO of Yara, Svein Tore Holsether.
In the spring of 2021, Yara was one of many companies to come under fire from the exiled Belarusian opposition for its co-operation with Belaruskali, demanding that Yara discontinue its co-operation. Belaruskali is one of the world's largest potash producers and exports its products all around the globe. It was included in the sanctions imposed after the Lukashenko regime forced a commercial Ryanair flight to land in Minsk and arrested top opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend on May 23 last year. According to Yara's own estimates, the company buys between 10-15% of Belaruskali's output.
In a previous statement, BITU president Maksim Pazniakou has praised Yara's efforts to improve worker's safety at Belaruskali and said that they had asked Yara to continue with this support as long as possible. In an email to the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) last year, BITU international secretary Lizaveta Merlyak said that sanctions against Belaruskali would hurt its workers the most. Merlyak argued that if western companies terminated their contracts with Belarusian state companies, it would bring about a cutback in investments for occupational safety. Furthermore, Merlyak supposed that international sanctions against Belaruskali would allow Russian potash companies to buy Belarusian mines on the cheap.
Since the protests in 2020, many workers have been fired by Belaruskali's management and several members of BITU have been detained by Belarusian law enforcement agencies for supporting the protests. This sparked an outcry from international human and worker's rights organisations.