Should we do business with a dictatorship? The question is not new for international companies working with Belarus. But it has arisen even more acutely since the presidential election of August 2020 and the hardening of repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. Among the foreign companies that have decided to stay, the Norwegian chemical company Yara, a specialist in mineral fertilizers and one of the main clients of the state enterprise Belaruskali, world leader in the potash market.
At the end of November, Yara found herself in turmoil, after a tweet from the Belarusian opposition leader, exiled in Lithuania, Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya. She asked the Norwegians to “To end all cooperation with Belarusian state-owned companies or to force them to respect the rights of their employees”.
The episode was badly lived in Oslo. “We find it a bit unfair that we only talk about us when other Western companies are there and do nothing for workers’ rights”, says Geir Sundbo, employee representative on Yara’s board of directors. Since August 2020, he has been in contact “Daily, seven days a week”, with the leaders of the independent union BITU: “They want us to stay”, he said, what the management of BITU, joined by The world, confirmed.
The Yara group is 36.2% controlled by the Norwegian state and 6.8% by the public pension fund. At the beginning of December, the boss of the company estimated that the situation on the spot was “Not tenable” : Svein Tore had condemned “The dismissals of workers who have expressed their democratic rights in a peaceful manner” and specified that he had contacted the Belarusian ambassador in Scandinavia to demand “Imminent and substantial improvements in conditions and relations with the Belarusian workforce, and the end of the use of reprisals, as well as improved safety conditions at work”.
Concretely, Pablo Barrera Lopez, executive vice-president in charge of communication and purchasing at Yara, has since reported several advances made in recent months. Firstly, “Belaruskali has agreed to implement a jointly developed security program”. A security expert from Yara is currently on site in Soligorsk and “Will work with Belaruskali to improve labor and process safety in their operations”.
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