In August 2012 the Israeli carbonated beverage manufacturer SodaStream opened their first own brand shop in the UK. EcoStream, which is owned by SodaStream, is located in Brighton and promotes itself as an eco friendly alternative to bottled drinks. However, SodaStream is far from an ethical company. With their main manufacturing plant being located in the illegal settlement industrial zone Mishor Adumim the company is profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
SodaStream has been on the receiving end of an international boycott campaign for a number of years and Palestine solidarity groups have been demonstrating outside the EcoStream shop on a weekly basis since September 2012. These demonstrations have been opposed by Zionist counter demonstrators. SodaStream has always been defensive about its business on occupied territory, claiming it benefits the Palestinians, something which has been disputed at length by activists. Since the start of the Brighton campaign some of the materials handed out by the shop have been overtly political. During one of the first demonstrations staff were seen handing out flyers which made SodaStream come across as defenders of the occupation rather than just occupation profiteers. “PLEASE BE AWARE THAT BDS IS A POLITICALLY-ORIENTATED MOVEMENT”, one flyer warned, whilst stating that Mishor Adumim is not located on occupied territory as Area C is “disputed” and not occupied land; that BDS activists claim that selling settlement produce is illegal when it is not; that Palestinians benefit from employment by SodaStream and will be harmed by the boycott; and even that article 49 of the Geneva convention is not applicable to Israeli settlements. These statements were responded to at length by campaigners with no response from the company.
Lately, the PR strategy has become less combatative but more manipulative: As the global SodaStream brand is involved in a world wide green washing effort with high profile advertising in both Europe and America, including in the Guardian and on the BBC, it is simultaneously working hard to white wash the occupation. In an attempt to avoid more bad publicity than the protests are already giving it, the company is bending over backwards to prove that their occupation industry is really there for the benefit of the Palestinians. Clearly worried that the protest would have a negative impact on EcoStream’s business, it has gone as far as to invite the business editor of the local Brighton paper The Argus to visit the factory. John Keenan travelled to Israel and the West Bank to visit factories owned by the company “At the invitation and expense of SodaStream” in October last year. Far from ‘Unbottling the debate over Brighton’s EcoStream store’ as his headline claimed, the article he wrote following the trip failed to really unbottle anything, or even ask any particularly challenging questions. Since then SodaStream has issued invitations to Brighton Tory MP Mike Weatherley and Green MP Caroline Lucas to visit the factory. It is Corporate Watch’s understanding that Weatherley, who has already issued statements in support of SodaStream, is going to visit Mishor Adumim this spring. It is not yet known if this trip is also at the expense of SodaStream.
SodaStream is adamant that it has nothing to hide and that anyone who visits the factory will agree that the company is a force for good in the area. At public meetings throughout the autumn Corporate Watch have been challenged by pro Israeli protestors to take SodaStream up on this and go and see the situation for ourselves. We have been to Mishor Adumim on numerous occasions in the past, but we agree that entering the plant would be of interest. On our arrival in Palestine on January 8th 2013 we contacted SodaStream’s PR company Eulogy requesting a visit to the factory. We immediately received a response saying that our request would be passed on to SodaStream. We then heard nothing back for three weeks, despite repeated email reminders. After we called them yet again, we finally received this refusal on the 1st of February:
“We receive a number of requests from companies, NGOs, retail partners and partner agencies to visit the SodaStream factory in Mishor Adumim. Whilst we are delighted to host people at the factory and carry out tours of the site, we simply cannot honour each and every request as we do not have the staff available to support. We will be unable to facilitate a tour on this occasion but do let us know if we can help by supplying you with any further information.”
SodaStream is using visits to the factory as part of its PR strategy. By paying expenses for journalists without previous in-depth knowledge of the area to visit and by hosting already sympathetic MPs, but in refusing access to researchers who might be able to challenge their propaganda it is becoming increasingly clear that SodaStream might have more to hide than it would like to admit.
In response to SodaStream’s suggestion that we let them know if they can supply us with any further information we have submitted the following questions and asked for supporting documentation:
What areas do the Palestinian workers in the factory come from?
Are you aware of a decision by the settlement regional council not to allow the Bedouin in the 5 communities close to Mishor Adumim to work in the industrial zone since 2009?
If so, do you comply with this decision?
Are the workers in the SodaStream factory allowed to unionise? If so, which unions operate in the industrial zone?
SodaStream chief executive Daniel Birnbaum stated in a conversation “We pay our workers three times the Israeli national average”. How much is that in NIS?
How many Palestinians are employed by SodaStream in above entry level positions at the Mishor Adumim plant?
We will publish any responses we receive to these questions on this site. Corporate Watch have done a large amount of contextual research about the Mishor Adumim industrial zone during our current trip. This research will be published in the next few months.
Since tweeting about the refusal we had received from SodaStream’s PR company Corporate Watch has received another email from Sodastream’s ‘Executive Assistant to the CEO’. We have not, however, received an invitation. Corporate Watch remains ready and willing to visit the Mishor Adumim facility.