San Leon Energy under investigation for Western Sahara activity

Global Legal Action Network made formal complaint about firm that has HQ in Dublin

The Global Legal Action Network made a formal complaint to the OECD about the company

Oil and gas exploration company San Leon Energy, which has its headquarters in Dublin, is under investigation by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in relation to its activities in Western Sahara.

The Global Legal Action Network (Glan), a non-governmental agency, made a formal complaint to the OECD about the company through its representative in Ireland in October 2018.

It alleged the company was not in compliance with OECD guidelines, specifically the principle of “meaningful engagement with stakeholders … and the principle of respect for internationally recognised human rights”.

“San Leon’s activities in Western Sahara contribute to the maintenance of an illegal annexation and to the denial of the internationally recognised right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination in their territory,” said the group’s legal adviser, Valentina Azarova. “Companies like San Leon benefit from Morocco’s illicit economy in Western Sahara and contribute to the severity of ongoing human rights violations.”


“Our case is the first to argue that it is impossible to do business in Western Sahara in a manner that respects international law, including the OECD guidelines for multinational corporations, owing to Morocco’s control of the business environment,” said Gearóid Ó Cuinn, director of Glan.


In response, the company said that all aspects of the complaint were addressed and that it complied fully with United Nations requirements. It noted that it "no longer has any interests or licences in the region".

Regarding ethical conduct, the company said that “the standard to be met in determining whether San Leon’s activities are ethical is article 73 of the United Nations charter that makes it clear that the interests of the local population are paramount”.

The company said that it consulted with elected representatives of the entire local population “including both Sahrawi and non-Sahrawis” when determining the wishes and interests of the local people.

The OECD representative has decided that there is “a prima facie case to proceed” on the basis of both the complaint and the response by the company that there are “significant differences in perspectives” between the complainant and the company.

They will formally ask the parties whether they are willing to engage in mediation with the aim of reaching a resolution. If a mediated solution is not possible, the OECD representative for Ireland will examine the case and produce a report, possibly with recommendations.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter