Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in Gaza: empowering action

As we write this there is an ongoing massacre in the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the operation on July 8, which the Israeli Occupation Forces are calling ‘Protective Edge’, 620 Palestinians have been killed and 3,752 injured according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Over 70% are estimated to be civilians. By the time you read this those figures will be higher and Israel’s bombardment shows no sign of slowing down.

The increasingly big protests that have taken place around the world prove that solidarity with Palestine is growing and that people are ready to stand up to Israeli war crimes. But big demonstrations are not enough. This is the time to intensify action. One way for internationals to do that is to join the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel. The BDS National Committee (BNC) has issued an urgent call for people to take action for Gaza, as well as a renewed call for an immediate arms embargo on Israel.

Brighton demo for Gaza

One of the many demonstrations against Israel’s massacre in Gaza. Photo by Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign

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An insider’s account of the Sainsbury’s AGM

Sainsbury's - Taste the Indifference

Sainsbury’s – Taste the Indifference

Corporate Watch were inside the Sainsbury’s AGM yesterday. Here’s an account of what happened:

Campaigners protesting outside the Sainsbury’s AGM at the QE2 conference centre in Westminster yesterday called for the company to cease working with companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The Sainsbury’s ‘Taste the Indifference’ campaign has been pressuring the company for almost two years, calling on them to follow the lead of the Cooperative Group and cease trading with companies operating in Israel’s settlements. Taste the Indifference has been holding monthly days of action where groups across the UK picket Sainsbury’s branches or occupy stores.

On the morning of the AGM, Corporate Watch had published an ‘open letter’ to Sainsbury’s shareholders.

The AGM saw Mike Coupe replace Justin King as Sainsbury’s CEO. The ‘Taste the Indifference’ campaign has written a letter to Mike Coupe signed by representatives of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG), the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Boycott Israel Network, and the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions calling for the company to cease trading with companies that operate in the settlements. The letter is also signed by several Members of Parliament and the European Parliament, as well as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe.

Before the AGM, Sainsbury’s Company Secretary Mike Fallowfield came outside to accept a petition from protesters. 6,500 signatures have been collected in support of the aims of the campaign, as well as 2000 postcards.

The AGM began at 10.30. Outgoing CEO Justin King spoke enthusiastically about the setting up of more Sainsbury’s stores and the expansion of existing ones. He also said “Our values are a unique point of difference”. However, many of the shareholders present questioned these values.

Several people had purchased shares in order to tell the board that they did not want Sainsbury’s to expand in their area. One woman from the village of Southam said that local people did not want a new Sainsbury’s store, as there was already a large supermarket in the village, and pledged to boycott it should it open. Another group from Bristol was campaigning against the building of a Sainsbury’s on the site of a local war memorial.

Three shareholders asked questions to the board about Palestine. The first asked:

“The governments of 17 members of the European Union, including the UK, have published warnings urging their citizens to refrain from engaging in business, economic activity and investment in settlements or bodies connected to the illegal Israeli settlements. These governments state that business relations with entities operating in settlements are inherently risky, from an economic, reputational and human rights perspective.

“In the UK, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth and Foreign Affairs has made it clear that the British Government expects British companies to treat the risk of contributing to gross human rights abuses through their operations as an issue of legal compliance, and to positively adopt policies to identify, monitor and prevent risks to human rights.

“The Base Code of the Ethical Trading Initiative, of which Sainsbury’s is a full member, also states that retailers must respect basic rights in their supply chain. What steps, therefore, does Sainsbury’s intend to take to comply with these government guidelines with respect to its trade with companies that operate in illegal Israeli settlements?”

David Tyler, non-executive director replied for the Sainsbury’s board:

“We are well aware of this issue, we monitor and audit with regard to the companies in our supply chain. We can’t find any evidence that those companies have done anything wrong. I think you are asking a wider question for us to boycott the products of any company sourcing from the settlements. We do not source from any company sourcing from settlements in the West Bank in our food and non-food products.”

However, Another activist shareholder pointed out that Sainsbury’s stocked Sodastream products and that Sodastream have their main manufacturing facility in the settlement of Mishor Adumim in the West Bank. The board replied that Sainsbury’s did not source own brand products from settlements but that Sodastream products would simply have to be labelled as such if they were manufactured in a settlement. Apparently, Sodastream has promised that their labelling policy has changed and that its products will be labelled as such in the future.

A third shareholder asked: “A recent report by Israeli research group Who Profits? shows that Sainsbury’s suppliers such as Mehadrin and Edom are deeply involved Israel’s policy of forcibly displacing Palestinian farmers from their land and constructing settlements on occupied land in violation of international law.

“The Who Profits? report also documents how these companies routinely lie about the origin of their produce and market products from illegal settlements as ‘Made in Israel’.

“How can you trust Israeli companies such as Mehadrin to act in ways that allows Sainsbury’s to live up to its promises about behaving in an ethical way? Given the growing body of evidence showing that they employ routine deception, what assessment has Sainsbury’s made about whether its Israeli suppliers are honest about the true origin of their produce?”

At the end of the AGM the Sainsbury’s board was inundated with more questions from shareholders about the ethics of their business.

Sainsbury’s – stop sourcing from occupation profiteers

Sainsbury’s claims that they have no evidence that there is wrongdoing within Sainsbury’s supply chains but Corporate Watch and others have presented ample evidence that Arava, Edom and Mehadrin have a track record of sourcing from settlements where child labour is employed and workers are paid less than the Israeli minimum wage.

In our open letter to Sainsbury’s, published yesterday, we argued: “It is not enough for Sainsbury’s to claim that they do not source goods from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they should cease sourcing from companies that are profiting from the seizure of Palestinian land and a captive workforce living under occupation. By sourcing products from Arava, Mehadrin and Edom, Sainsbury’s is supporting the settler economy and acting against the wishes of the Palestinian people. We are calling on Sainsbury’s to follow the lead of the Cooperative Supermarket and refuse to buy products from these companies.

The ‘Taste the Indifference’ campaign made a press statement, which you can read here.

To find out how to oppose supermarket developments in your area see Corporate Watch’s ‘What’s Wrong With Supermarkets?’ and our campaign guide to opposing supermarket developments, ‘Checkout Chuckout’. To find out how to research developments in your area see our new do-it-yourself handbook for ‘Investigating Companies’.

Calls for direct action as Magforce prosecution collapses

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Anti arms trade activists who have been taking a prosecution against Magforce over the marketing of electric shock batons at the DESI arms fair have been forced to discontinue their case

The Arms Dealers on Trial campaign has issued the following statement:

Following a private meeting in recent days between lawyers for Arms Dealers On Trial and senior staff at the CPS, we have been made aware that we may no longer continue the private criminal prosecution of two arms companies (Magforce International and Tianjin Myway International) who promoted torture weapons at last year’s DSEI arms fair in London, contrary to UK arms export laws. A court had previously granted us permission to proceed with the private prosecution and a trial had been anticipated later this year.

We are appalled that the case has been discontinued. However, it proves our point – the commercial trade of arms, which causes unimaginable human suffering and tends to devastate the natural environment too, is legitimised, facilitated and rewarded by the authorities and our Government.

Even though:
• there was a strong prima facie case against the arms companies for having promoted torture equipment for sale at the arms fair, and
• the facts of the alleged offences are well known, following a high profile intervention in Parliament by Caroline Lucas MP who presented evidence that crimes had taken place, which led to the arms companies being thrown out of the fair, and
• there had been a detailed investigation by the Independent newspaper, and coverage in lots of other media, and
• refused freedom of information requests to HMRC and the Metropolitan Police about the investigations into breaches of the law at DSEI, and
• numerous representations made to the CPSHMRC and Ministers by our lawyer asking them to investigate this matter;

neither the CPS, police or HMRC took steps to make the arms companies accountable. The CPS admitted that no investigation of the arms companies had taken place by either themselves or HMRC and that even if it had the outcome would have been no more serious than ‘a slap on the wrist’.

A report by Amnesty International found that the weapons could be used for crimes against humanity – torture. In terms of the human suffering these weapons are manufactured to cause, it could hardly be more serious. This is grotesque hypocrisy from our Government which tries to present itself as a defender of international human rights standards.

The CPS chose to communicate their position outside of the six month deadline for any public prosecution to be commenced. Legal representatives had repeatedly requested from the outset that the CPS commence their own proceedings against the two arms companies. In circumstances where the State (which jointly hosts and heavily subsidises the arms fair) will not act, and others may not act, the arms dealers are entirely unaccountable for their actions, since there appears to be no effective legal mechanism to prevent the promotion for sale of illegal torture weapons.

Disarm DSEI, another group that oppose the DSEI arms fair, said:

“Time and again cluster munitions and torture eqipment have been advertised illegally inside the DSEI arms fair, and yet the State have never made any effort to apprehend or prosecute the offenders; preferring instead to try to suppress the protests outside. Given the State’s protection of the arms industry and lack of any meaningful accountability it is left to ordinary people to stop the arms fair by taking direct action against it.”

It has been our ongoing position that the arms fair must be opposed by all means. The DSEI arms fair returns to the Excel Centre in 2015. We will be there to stand against them and we will not rest until the arms fair has been shut down for good.

Our lawyers have commented here: http://www.hja.net/news/press-releases/criminal-defence/private-prosecut…

Open letter to Sainsbury’s shareholders

Corporate Watch urges you to pressure the Sainsbury’s management to listen to the call from Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, to boycott Israeli goods and not to source goods from companies profiting from human rights abuses against Palestinians by operating in Israeli settlements.

In 2005 hundreds of civil society organisations in Palestine called on international civil society to boycott Israeli goods and Israeli companies until the Israeli state’s crimes against Palestinians end. Since then the boycott movement has grown into a powerful global force, which has the capacity to seriously challenge the Israeli state’s attempts to dispossess the people of Palestine from their land.

In 2012 the Cooperative Supermarket became the first major UK retailer to announce that it would not trade with any company that operates in Israel’s illegal settlements.

In September 2013 Sainsbury’s confirmed to Corporate Watch that it sources its goods from several Israeli companies that operate in the settlements: Arava, Mehadrin and Edom.

We are calling on you to help us to convince Sainsbury’s to follow the Cooperative Group’s lead and to stop sourcing from these companies.

Working for poverty wages on land stolen from their families

Israeli agricultural companies operate on land which has been taken from Palestinians by force. Communities, whose livelihood has been decimated by the occupation, have no option but to work for below the minimum wage on land which, in many cases, previously belonged to their families.

Mehadrin source their produce from the Israeli settlement of Beqa’ot. One worker from Beqa’ot told Corporate Watch: “Before the occupation in 1967 Libqya [The Arabic name for the area where Beqa'ot is now situated] was owned by Palestinians who used it for planting crops and raising animals. All of the families around here owned land in Libqya.

“I remember when my mother passed Libqya when I was young she told us how she used to play there with her brothers and sisters. Our family owned 70 dunums of land there.

“This reality is too painful. When I was older I tried to reach the land my mother told me about. But a settler told me I was forbidden to go there”

Paid under the minimum wage

These Israeli companies consistently underpay their workers. Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements have been entitled to the Israeli minimum wage since an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2007 (see here). The current hourly minimum wage is 23.12 NIS (New Israeli Shekels),the equivalent of 184.96 NIS for an eight hour working day, having risen from 20.70 NIS in 2009. However, for Palestinian workers on Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley these conditions seem an impossible dream.

In 2010 and 2013 Corporate Watch conducted interviews with settlement workers showing that Palestinians are consistently paid as little as half the minimum wage. Many of our interviewees also reported that children under the age of 16 were employed on the settlements.

The table below outlines our 2013 findings:

Name of settlement Wages reportedly paid Wages paid are below the minimum wage Companies sourcing goods from the settlement Child labour reported Workers complained that they were not allowed to unionise
Beit Ha’arava 65-70 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) Yes Arava, Edom Yes Yes
Beqa’ot 82 NIS (minus 12 NIS deducted for transport) Yes Mehadrin Tnuport (MTEX), Carmel Agrexco, STM Agricultural Exports Yes
Na’ama 65-80NIS Yes Viva, Carmel Agrexco Yes
Kalia Yes Carmel Agrexco
Tomer 70 NIS Yes Edom, Hadiklaim, Agrexco Yes Yes
Massua 80 NIS Yes Mehadrin Tnuport (Mtex) Yes
Vered Yeriho 70 NIS Yes Carmel Agrexco Yes
Argaman 60 NIS Yes Carmel Agrexco, Ada Yes

Arava, Edom and Mehadrin source their products from many of the above settlements. In doing so they are helping to sustain the settlement economy.

Palestinian workers’ views of the companies working in the settlements

Corporate Watch asked the Palestinian workers on Israeli settlements we met about their opinion of the companies working there. The quotes below are illustrative of their views:

It is important for you to tell people that these settlements are illegal and that we don’t have any choice except to work for them… I think it’s important to boycott Israeli products as the settlements are stealing our land and stealing our water. [If the companies in Tomer were to close down it would be] like a dream, inshallah [God willing], it’s freedom for the Palestinian people.”

Mohammed, worker in Tomer

When the settlement economy is destroyed the settlers will leave. They are only here for business.”

Fadi, worker at Beit Ha’arava

They are working on stolen land, using water that they have stolen from us. If the boycott campaign damages these companies then the settlers will leave our land.”

Fares, worker at Beit Ha’arava

We support the boycott even if we lose our work. We might lose our jobs but we will get back our land. We will be able to work without being treated as slaves.”

Zaid, worker at Beqa’ot

The case of Sodastream

Sainsbury’s stocks Sodastream products for making fizzy drinks at home. Sodastream has its main manufacturing facility in the Israeli settlement industrial area of Mishor Adumim. Mishor Adumim was established on land previously occupied by Palestinian Bedouin. The Bedouin occupants were forcibly evicted and forced to settle in an area close to the Jerusalem Municipal rubbish dump. In 2013 Corporate Watch interviewed several people from this community. Here is what one of them said about Sodastream:

“We are not allowed to go near them [the factories]. They took our livelihood to build them and we got evacuated for them to build their factories. After they built them there were no resources to live from for us. The gains are nothing compared to what was lost. They destroyed our lives and then gave a few people a job. It is nothing”.

Sainsbury’s – stop sourcing from occupation profiteers

It is not enough for Sainsbury’s to claim that they do not source goods from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, they should cease sourcing from companies that are profiting from the seizure of Palestinian land and a captive workforce living under occupation. By sourcing products from Arava, Mehadrin, Sodastream and Edom, Sainsbury’s is supporting the settler economy and acting against the wishes of the Palestinian people. We are calling on Sainsbury’s to follow the lead of the Cooperative Supermarket and refuse to buy products from these companies.

This letter has been sent to Sainsbury’s head office

Farming under siege: Working the land in Gaza

Corporate Watch researchers visited the Gaza Strip during November and December 2013 and carried out interviews with farmers in Beit Hanoun, Al Zaytoun, Khaza’a, Al Maghazi and Rafah, as well as with representatives from Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), Palestine Crops and the Gaza Agricultural Co-operative in Beit Lahiya. This is the first of two articles highlighting what their experiences show: that Palestinians face significant and diverse difficulties when it comes to farming their land and harvesting and exporting their produce under siege, and that Israel enforces what amounts to a de facto boycott of produce from the Gaza Strip.

The land and the buffer zones

“There is a 300 meter ‘buffer zone’ in our area. It is common that people get shot at directly if they enter it. Within 500 meters people often get shot at. It is unsafe within 1500 metres of the fence”

Saber Al Zaneen from the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative

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The beginning of the buffer zone in Beit Hanoun in the occupied Gaza Strip. Photo by Corporate Watch, November 2013

Since the withdrawal of settlers and the end of a permanent presence of ground troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel insists that the area is no longer under occupation. However, as well as still controlling Gaza’s air space, coastline and exports, Israel effectively occupies the area commonly referred to as the ‘buffer zone’, located all the way down the strip along the border with Israel. A buffer area has existed in Gaza since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, when 50 meters on the Gaza side of the border was designated a no-go area for Palestinians. Since then, Israel has unilaterally expanded this zone on numerous occasions, including to 150 metres during the Intifada in 2000 and to changeable and unclear parameters since 2009. Continue reading

Ecostream campaign victorious

Brighton's Ecostream store closes after two years of concerted campaigning

Brighton’s Ecostream store closes after two years of concerted campaigning

Brighton’s Ecostream store has closed down after a two year campaign of demonstrations, street actions and direct action.

Ecostream issued the following statement this morning: “SodaStream confirms that the EcoStream store, located on Western Road in Brighton, closed earlier this week. Following the two year test period, the company has decided to focus its business efforts on other channels, specifically on retail distribution partnerships.”

John Lewis have also informed Corporate Watch today that they will no longer be stocking Sodastream products. According to John Lewis’ Senior Press officer: “John Lewis has stocked Sodastream for the past four years but in light of declining sales we’ve taken the decision to no longer stock the range”. Campaigners have demonstrated repeatedly outside John Lewis stores calling for the chain to discontinue its Sodastream range and for consumers to boycott Sodastream products.

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‘We want to work without being treated as slaves’

Greenhouses in Beqa'ot settlement, photo by Corporate Watch February 2013

Greenhouses in Beqa’ot settlement, photo by Corporate Watch February 2013

During January 2013, Corporate Watch conducted interviews with Palestinians who work in the illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley. Part one to three of our findings can be read here, here and here.

We met 44 year old Rashid* and 38 year old Zaid* in their hometown of Tammoun in the northern West Bank. They both work in the illegal Israeli settlement of Beqa’ot. A colony with 171 residents situated close to the Palestinian community of Al Hadidya in the Jordan Valley.

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Palestinian bedouin close to Beqa’ot are prevented from builing permanent structures by the Israeli military, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Tammoun is situated just outside the Jordan Valley. Like thousands of other Palestinian workers Zaid and Rashid travel into the Jordan Valley in search of work on a daily basis. To cross into the valley they have to pass through the Israeli military checkpoint at Tayasir or Al Hamra.

Rashid has worked in Beqa’ot since the early ’90s whereas Zaid worked in Israel until 5 years ago. Zaid tells us: “Now it is impossible for me to get a permit to work outside the West Bank.”

For Israeli companies, sourcing their goods from the settlements in the Jordan Valley allows them to circumvent workers rights and health and safety regulations. According to Zaid: “Inside Israel the workers have contracts and the conditions are better. This is because in Israel there are some controls on companies, unlike in the West Bank.”

Both men work all year round except for September-November when there is no work available. They have no contracts and tell us that none of their workmates do either. Their job is to plant grapes and tend to the vines, pruning them and spraying them with fertilisers and chemicals. At harvest time they cut and collect the grapes.

Grapevines in the settlement of Beqa'ot, photo taken by Corporate Watch, February 2013

Grapevines in the settlement of Beqa’ot, photo taken by Corporate Watch, February 2013

Zaid and Rashid both work in the fields outside the boundaries of Beqa’ot. They do not have a permit to enter the settlement itself.

Paid below the minimum wage

Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements have been entitled to the Israeli minimum wage since an Israeli Supreme Court ruling in 2007 (see here). In 2010 Corporate Watch conducted over 40 interviews with settlement workers showing that Palestinians are consistently paid as little as half the minimum wage. These conditions remained largely unchanged when we returned in 2014.

The current hourly minimum wage is 23.12, NIS (New Israeli Shekels),the equivalent of 184.96 NIS for an eight hour working day, having risen from 20.70 NIS in 2009. However, for Palestinian workers on Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley these conditions seem an impossible dream.

Zaid and Rashid are employed directly by the settlers in Beqa’ot and speak to them directly to arrange their work. Both get paid 82 New Israeli Shekels (NIS), 18 of which goes towards daily transport.

They have no insurance provided by their employer. Rashid explains: “Last year one of the workers died, but the settlers did not help his family at all.

The men do not receive any paid holiday, even for religious holidays. This is despite the fact that an Israeli government website advises that workers are entitled to 14 days paid holiday and must receive a written contract and payslips from their employer (see here).

Both men are members of the General Palestinian Workers Union (GPWU). However, they are unable to represent workers in Beqa’ot or negotiate with their bosses. According to Rashid: “We organise trainings for agricultural workers but we are not recognised by the settlers, we do not receive any representation from Histradrut”.

Histradrut is the Israeli trade union organisation. Many campaigners for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid have called for a boycott of the Histradrut because of its failure to represent Palestinian workers and its overt support of Israeli state policies. For example, in 2010 the British University and College Union broke ties with the Histradrut; a UCU spokesperson said the Histradrut, “supported the Israeli assault on civilians in Gaza” and “did not deserve the name of a trade union”.

Companies sourcing produce from Beqa’ot

Mehadrin Tnuport boxes ready to be packed with grapes, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Mehadrin Tnuport boxes ready to be packed with grapes, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Carmel Agrexco boxes ready to be packed with grapes, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Carmel Agrexco boxes ready to be packed with grapes, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

STM  boxes ready to be packed with grapes, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

STM boxes ready to be packed with grapes, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Export label on a box in Beqa'ot statying that these grapes are shipped by Carmel agrexco, Photo taken in Febuary 2013 by Corporate Watch

Export label on a box in Beqa’ot statying that these grapes are shipped by Carmel agrexco, Photo taken in Febuary 2013 by Corporate Watch

Export label on a box in Beqa’ot statying that these grapes are shipped by Carmel agrexco, Photo taken in Febuary 2013 by Corporate Watch

Rashid tells us: “We label the grapes ‘Made in the Jordan Valley’ and mark them with the name and phone number of the Israeli settler.

“Each of the settler has his own packing house. When we harvest the grapes they are taken first of all to packing houses in Beqa’ot owned by individual settler, then transported to a central refrigeration unit owned by the Moshav [a Hebrew word for a cooperative farm]. Then a refrigeration truck takes them to be exported.”

The men tell us that the majority of the grapes they harvest are exported through Mehadrin.

Corporate Watch visited Beqa’Ot in February 2013 and photographed several packing houses displaying Mehadrin signage. Israeli company Mehadrin Tnuport Export (MTEX) is a part of the huge Mehadrin Group which owns a 50% of STM Agricultural Exports Ltd – another Israeli company dealing in vegetables. MTEX export around 70% of all their produce to outside Israel and are one of the largest suppliers for the Jaffa brand world wide. Sainsburys confirmed to Corporate Watch in August 2013 that the supermarket sourced fresh vegetables from Mehadrin. Mehadrin is also certified to supply fresh produce to Tesco (see here).

Corporate Watch also photographed boxes and export labels for Carmel Agrexco in Beqa’ot. Carmel Agrexco was the Israeli state owned fresh produce export company. In 2011 the company went into liquidation, due in part to the international boycott movement. The brand has since been bought by Gideon Bickel of Israeli firm Bickel Flowers and has been fighting to regain lost contracts.

Working for poverty wages on land stolen from their families

Rashid and Zaid refer to Beqa’ot by its Palestinian name, Libqya. Rashid tells us: “Before the occupation in 1967 Libqya was owned by Palestinians who used it for planting crops and raising animals. All of the families around here owned land in Libqya.

“I remember when my mother passed Libqya when I was young she told us how she used to play there with her brothers and sisters. Our family owned 70 dunums of land there.

“This reality is too painful. When I was older I tried to reach the land my mother told me about. But a settler told me I was forbidden to go there.”

‘We will get back our land’

Greenhouses in the settlement of Beqa'ot, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Greenhouses in the settlement of Beqa’ot, photo taken by Corporate Watch in February 2013

Both men are supportive of the call for a boycott of Israeli agricultural companies. When it was pointed out that if the boycott was successful then their employers would not be able to pay them a wage any longer Zaid responded: “We support the boycott even if we lose our work. We might lose our jobs but we will get back our land. We will be able to work without being treated as slaves.”

* Names have been changed at the authors’ discretion

 

A shareholder activist’s account of the G4S AGM

Protest at G4S Agm 2014

Protest at G4S Agm 2014

Submitted by a guest author who attended G4S’ AGM

The G4S AGM, on 5 June 2014, passed with predictable controversy. More than 10 protesting G4S shareholders and proxies were forcibly removed, in some instances by being dragged across the floor by their hands, and the shareholder questions were overwhelmingly focussed on G4S’ actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), HMP Oakwood and other prisons and detention facilities which G4S are involved in globally.

 The atmosphere was confrontational, verging on combative. More than 10 members of security flanked the sides of the room, leading one shareholder to tell the Board: “I haven’t been eyeballed this much since Chelsea [football matches] in the 1980s.” Another added: “this cannot be acceptable. You cannot have people being dragged out.”

When the time came for shareholders and proxies to pose questions to the Board, 26 questions were asked, of which 13 related to the OPT, significantly overshadowing the five or so questions asked on corporate issues.

Challenging the independence of the ‘Human Rights Review of G4S Israel’

I assume myself that this company has human rights at its heart. It is very deeply felt beyond that.”
Claire Spottiswoode, Chair of G4S’ CSR Committee

Many of G4S CEO Ashley Almanza’s responses on Israel and the OPT referred back to the ‘Human Rights Review of G4S Israel’ which G4S had released about 36 hours prior to the AGM. The review, written by Dr Hugo Slim and Professor Guglielmo Verdirame, held that: “It is not possible to say in any meaningful way that G4S has responsibility for any human rights violations allegedly being carried out by the State of Israel in detention, crossing points or settlements.”

This review, and particularly the independence and objectivity of its authors, was heavily challenged by shareholders and proxies. Mr Almanza had repeatedly emphasised that it was important to G4S that the authors were “independent, credible experts.” But several shareholders and proxies referred to, and quoted, sections of the review which tested this. In particular, they referred to sections which seemed to imply that Palestinians themselves are responsible for violations of their human rights (in a section entitled: ‘Palestinian Responsibility for Human Rights Risks’, p 12) and that the campaign against G4S is a “key part of a wider strategy by the Palestinian solidarity movement to delegitimize the State of Israel” (p. 2). Seemingly undermining the value of his earlier reliance on the review’s findings to absolve G4S of any responsibility for, or complicity in, human rights violations, Mr Almanza ultimately conceded that G4S does not necessarily share the view of the independent experts that it instructs.

 G4S’ contracts in the OPT and Israel

Our 7th value is ‘safety first’. We are not yet satisfied; there is more to do.”
Ashley Almanza, G4S CEO

One of the key issues that shareholders and proxies wanted addressed at the meeting was whether G4S would stand by its 2011 and 2012 commitments to withdraw from contracts involving servicing security equipment at military checkpoints, a prison and a police station in the West Bank by 2015.

Positively, G4S did confirm that it would not be renewing these contracts. However, rather than standing by its commitment to do so by 2015, Mr Almanza instead referred to three relevant contracts, which fall away at the end of 2014, 2015 and 2017, respectively. Consequently, it appears that it could now be three more years (in addition to any warranty periods, as Mr Almanza made sure to emphasise) until G4S ceases to be involved in providing services to prisons and checkpoints in the OPT, rather than one more year, in line with the 2011/2012 commitments.

Mr Almanza added, in a brief comment, that could almost have gone unnoticed, that the contract that expires in 2014, the so called ‘Framework Agreement’, applies not only to prison facilities in the West Bank but to “all facilities.” In the face of strong evidence which suggests that child Palestinian prisoners are being held within prisons in Israel, a number of shareholders and proxies pushed for more information. When expressly asked whether by ‘all facilities’ Mr Almanza meant facilities in the West Bank and Israel, Mr Almanza would only repeat that the relevant contract applied to ‘all facilities’; he provided no further details and so the extent of G4S’ commitment remains unclear.

Clearer, more specific commitments are needed

How are you going to stand up to morals and ethics as a team, by including rather than excluding, and by better engagement with those affected?”
G4S Shareholder

Although Mr Almanza’s statements about discontinuing certain G4S contracts in Israel and the OPT are positive, not enough information has yet been provided to understand the nature of G4S’ commitment, how it impacts on G4S’ involvement in Israel and the OPT, and when we can expect the commitment to be realised. Military Court Watch, an organisation which monitors the treatment of children in Israeli military detention, has argued that G4S’ statement that it will not be withdrawing for another three years “may be considered to be an aggravating rather than a mitigating circumstance in any future criminal or civil action.” Further, G4S remained silent on its continuing provision of services to businesses in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Campaign pressure is therefore continuing. And it is achieving significant successes.

Following a substantial reduction of the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation’s shareholding in G4S in May 2014, the Foundation announced, in the days following the AGM, that it has now sold its entire stake in the business. And one week ago, the largest American protestant church, the United Methodist Church, also divested from G4S, stating, with reference to its initial purchase of the shares: “if we could turn back the clock, if we knew then what we know now, we probably would have deferred the purchase until we completed our research.”

The G4S AGM has, again, introduced more questions than answers. There is now a pressing need to obtain clear and specific commitments from G4S on the timing of its exit from contracts in the West Bank, and the details of its exit from all Israeli prison contracts. Not only will G4S have to make satisfactory and timely commitments, but it will also have to fully realise them. Until this has been done, the international pressure on G4S will need to continue.

 

L-3 and Garrett supplying equipment for Gaza checkpoint

The Beit Hanoun (Erez) checkpoint taken from the Palestinian side, photo taken in 2013  by the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative,

The Beit Hanoun (Erez) checkpoint taken from the Palestinian side, photo taken in 2013 by the Beit Hanoun Local Initiative,

The Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing is the only crossing for people who want to go directly from Gaza into the 1948 borders of Israel. People wishing to cross must apply for a permit and only a small number of permits are granted. Privileged people such as foreign journalists (who are not overly critical of Israel), NGO workers, business people and politicians are often granted permits. Other people have to go through the Rafah crossing from southern Gaza into Egypt.

The Beit Hanoun crossing is subject to frequent closures by the Israeli authorities. The terminal has been closed since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on 12 June. This closure amounts to an act of collective punuishment against everyone in Gaza by the Israeli state.

The crossing is also the only way for hundreds of sick patients to obtain treatment. Israeli military attacks have destroyed vital services in Gaza, while the Israeli siege has prevented life saving equipment from reaching services in the Strip. See Corporate Watch’s recent briefing, Besieging health services in Gaza: a profitable business, to find out more about the effects of the siege on health in Gaza.

Corporate Watch did not apply for permission to cross through the Beit Hanoun crossing as we didn’t think that it would be granted. However, we did ask an NGO worker who was crossing to take a look at the equipment used in the terminal. The NGO worker, who wished to remain anonymous told us “Coming from Israel, you first go through a private Israeli security firm check where your permit number is confirmed so that you can enter the terminal, then in the terminal you go through another Israeli security ‘border patrol’ check. Once through that you go on a long walk to the Palestinian Authority checkpoint where you’re registered, then you get into a taxi and drive just a minute to the Hamas checkpoint where another permit by the local government is checked. That’s the process for getting into Gaza.”

He told us “I saw the machine’s makes: ProVision on the full body scans, Garret on the metal detectors.”

Garrett are a US based security equipment supplier. In 2013 Corporate Watch reported that Garrett scanning equipment was being used by the police in the occupied West Bank. Garrett equipment is used by HM Court ‘Service’ in the UK. In our view, BDS campaigners should pressure HMCS to end its contract with Garrett because of its supply of security equipment used to enforce the unlawful siege of Gaza.

Corporate Watch contacted Garrett with a list of questions about the use of its equipment at the Beit Hanoun crossing but received no reply.

The PROVision scanners are manufactured by L-3. L-3 is a provider of military and security products and services. According to Who Profits it supplied body scanners to the Beit Hanoun terminal via Hashmira Israel, a security company owned by British-Danish company G4S.

Drone Campaign Network – Campaign Day

The Drone Campaign Network is holding a day gathering for those interested in campaigning on the growing use of drones. The event will take place at Friends House, London NW1 2BJ (opposite Euston station) on Saturday 14 June. The day will include speakers, workshops and planning for the Week of Action on Drones later this year.

Corporate Watch will be participating in this event, talking about our interviews with survivors of drone attacks in Gaza.