Media Release: Campaigners welcome Co-operative Group move to end trade links with companies that source goods from illegal settlements
Boycott Israel Network (BIN)
Saturday 28 April 2012
Palestine human rights campaigners today welcomed news that the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, The Co-operative Group, will “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.
The Co-op’s decision, notified to campaigners in a statement, will immediately impact four suppliers, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company. Mehadrin sources produce from illegal settlements, including Beqa’ot in the Occupied Jordan Valley. During interviews with researchers, Palestinian workers in the settlement said they earn as little as €11 per day. Grapes and dates packaged in the settlement were all labelled ‘Produce of Israel’.
Mehadrin’s role in providing water to settlement farms and its relationship with Israeli state water company Mekorot makes the company additionally complicit with Israel’s discriminatory water policies. Other companies may be affected by the Co-op’s new policy if they are shown to be sourcing produce from Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Hilary Smith, Co-op member and Boycott Israel Network (BIN) agricultural trade campaign co-ordinator, said “we welcome this important decision by the Co-op to take steps toward fully realising their policy of support for human rights and ethical trading. The Co-op has taken the lead internationally in this historic decision to hold corporations to account for complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. We strongly urge other retailers to follow suit and take similar action”.
The announcement by the Co-op came just before their Regional AGMs, due to take place over the next two weeks, and where motions on this issue have been submitted for discussion. For months Co-op members have been highlighting their concerns about trade with complicit companies through co-ordinated letter-writing and discussions with local offices.
A spokesperson from the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which works to improve the conditions of Palestinian agricultural communities, said:
“Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin profit from and are directly involved in the ongoing colonisation of occupied Palestinian land and theft of our water. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, so we warmly welcome this principled decision by the Co-Operative. Other European supermarkets must now take similar steps to end their complicity with Israeli violations of international law. The movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law is proving to be a truly effective form of action in support of Palestinian rights”.
Campaigners say that this widening of the Co-op’s human rights and trade policy represents a victory for the BDS campaign, called for in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations. Actions across Europe to highlight the issue of complicit agricultural trade companies have included co-ordinated popular boycotts, pickets of supermarkets, lobbying and blockades of company premises.
Last year Agrexco, formerly Israel’s largest agricultural goods exporter, was ordered into liquidation after posting record losses and failing to pay its creditors. Shir Hever, Israeli economist and commentator who researches the economic aspects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, said that one factor was “the fact that Agrexco has been the target of an international boycott campaign, in protest at its role in repressing Palestinians”.
All other major supermarkets in the UK continue to trade with the companies that are now barred under the Co-op’s human rights and trade policy.
8. The Co-operative and the illegal Israeli settlements, 27th April 2012
Since 2009, The Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, which establishes the exceptional circumstances under which we will withdraw all trade from a particular state, area or settlement.
One such circumstance is where there is a broad international consensus that the status of a settlement is illegal.
There are only two examples of such settlements: the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara.
On this basis, our policy has previously been not to source any produce or own-brand product from the Israeli settlements (or from Moroccan settlements). Since its adoption, this position has been underpinned by a rigorous monitoring process.
On the 25th April, The Co-operative’s Board determined that, going forward, we will additionally no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements. This decision will impact four suppliers*, and circa £350,000 of trade.
In reaching this decision the Board was mindful of the additional costs involved in the tracing and auditing of all produce supplied by these businesses.
In line with the Board’s decision, we have audited our supply chain and identified a small number of businesses that we can no longer source from, as there is evidence that they source from the settlements.
This position is not a boycott of Israeli businesses, and we continue to have supply agreements with some twenty Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements, a number of which may benefit from a transfer of trade.
We will also continue to actively work to increase trade links with Palestinian businesses in the Occupied Territories.
27th April 2012
*The four suppliers are Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin.
The rationale for the conception and creation of www.easi-piesi.org lies in the belief that few people would, knowingly, seek to benefit through theft from others. Likewise, few would consider taking advantage of the victims of terror and ethnic cleansing. Few would want to reward a military occupier where brutality and wanton killing, the demonising and brutalising of a subjugated people is the hallmark of the occupation
Increasingly there is awareness that trade has an ethical dimension -as witnessed by the plethora of ethical and corporate responsibility statements to be found in the literature of the UK’s major supermarkets. The formation of the Ethical Trading Initiative by the supermarkets is one manifestation of this.
However the defining of ethics as applied to international trade is not the monoply of the UK’s supermarkets. UK shoppers should have a say in the matter, should have a facility whereby they can sensitise the supermarkets to their feelings and demands – with the bonus of knowing that they are helping the supermarkets formulate policy based on what the customer really wants.
Crucially, shoppers should be able to identify products and produce on the supermarket shelf which originates from stolen land or from land under military occupation. Shoppers should be free to shop with a clear conscience knowing they have made an ethical decision to avoid such produce.
By making such an ethical decision they are telling the supermarket, in the most direct manner possible, to cease selling the goods they have chosen to boycott.
Palestine – a stolen land
It was on the 16th September, 1948 that the United Nations appointed mediator, Count Folke Bernadotte, completed the report which outlined his plans for the return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who, in the space of a few months, had either been ethnically cleansed from their land or had fled to safety.
Twenty four hours later, the UN mediator was assassinated at the hands of the terrorist Stern Gang. It is worth noting that two prominent members of this terrorist group, Yitzhak Shamir (directly implicated in the murder) and Menachem Begin, both became prime ministers of Israel.
It is the legacy of this act of murder which resonates throughout the Middle East and the wider world to this day. And this legacy is summed up in the two words “stolen land.”
With the assassination of the UN mediator. The question of land ownership and looted Palestinian property was quietly dropped. Crucially, at this point in time, about 94% of land in Palestine was owned by Palestinian Arabs, churches and religious trusts. The remainder was Jewish owned. (In current circumstances, within Israel itself, these statistics are now reversed.)
And how did the state of Israel acquire Palestinian owned land?
Quite simple. In parallel with ignoring international law, it used (and still uses) any convenient laws dating from the days of the Ottoman Empire
- if land remains uncultivated for 3 years or more – regardless of the reason – it beomes the property of the state
- laws and military regulations used by Britain – under the Defence Emegency Regulations for example, Israel can and does carry out draconian collective punishments such as house demolition – as did the British during its time of authority over Palestine.
Israel used its own laws and Military Orders
- At the end of June 1948, for example, the first “Abandoned Areas Ordinance” was issued giving the theft, looting and seizure of thousands of Palestinian homes and businesses a first coat of legal gloss.
- For those Palestinians who fled even a few miles from their homes and land, for safety, they lost their right to ownership – even if they returned a few weeks later.
- Those so-called “present absentee” Palestinians can still look at their rightful property and land – but cannot enter. As for Palestinian refugees, Israel refuses outright any responsibility for their situation, never mind any guilt over stealing their land
- land declared “abandoned” was designated “state land”, passed to a Development Authority, transferred to Israel Land Administration and administered by the Jewish National Fund (the UK charity, JNF Charitable Trust, is a member of the extended Jewish National Fund family) for exclusive Jewish use.
If all else fails the excuse of “security” is invoked
By such means the Palestinian people were robbed, and continue to be robbed, of their land.
Every act of violence towards the Palestinian people, whether they be refugees in the Lebanon or residents of the West Bank and Gaza, contains the same message – we, Israel, have your land and have no intention of giving it up, so you give up your struggle.
Every act of resistance by the Palestinian people, violent or non-violent, conveys the message to Israel. We demand our rights, our land.We will never give up.
And Israel has become adept at responding to this message in an uncompromising manner.
The visit to Israel towards the end of 2008 by Gordon Brown and Barack Obama produced the usual pleas to halt settlement construction. Israel’s response was typical. A few days later the government announced plans to build settlements on Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley.
For 10 year-old Ahmad Husam Yousef Mousa, land theft by Israel was very much a reality. On 29th July 2008 he demonstrated with his friends against the separation fence which is being constructed on the lands of his village, Nilin, taking away the lands and sole source of livelihood of many of its inhabitants. At a distance of about 10 metres, as they were retreating from armed soldiers, he was shot in the head and murdered by a bullet from an M16 rifle.
Palestine Israel Ethical Shopping Initiative
At www.easi-piesi.org there is the belief that the international community, as represented by individual governments, has totally failed the Palestinian people. The responsibility now lies with civic society to show the way.
We believe that any solution to the question of Palestine and its people must be a rights based solution, based on international law. We believe that all aspects of Israeli society which give the state a civilised veneer should be boycotted until as such times as Israel ceases to boycott the rights of the Palestinian people
With the UK importing at least two thirds of Israeli produce, civic society within the UK has the responsiblity to consider the ethics of purchasing such produce. At www.easi-piesi.org we take this responsibility seriously. .
www.easi-piesi.org will be a vibrant, interactive site. It will, initially, encourage the shoppers of the UK to make the ethical decision not to purchase Israeli goods on the shelves of the supermarkets. It will, with the assistance of the shopping public, clearly identify these goods and publicise them.