Monthly Archives: June 2014

‘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.

Workers paid below the minimum wage in the Israeli settlement of Na’ama

Greenhouses in the settlement of Na'ama, picture taken by Corporate Watch in January 2013

Greenhouses in the settlement of Na’ama, picture taken by Corporate Watch in January 2013

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

Ayman works in the illegal Israeli settlement of Na’ama. He comes from the Northern West Bank, outside the Jordan Valley. His work is arranged through a local Palestinian intermediary. He sets off for work at 3am through Tayasir military checkpoint. In Na’ama his work consists of planting tarragon, sage, mint, thyme, onions and chillies.

Na’ama is an Israeli colony that was set up on Palestinian land in the Israeli occupied West Bank close to the city of Jericho in 1982. According to Israeli human rights group B’tselem it has 92 inhabitants. To view a map of the area click here.

Ayman tells us: “in the morning we take the tractors from the kibbutz and work in the fields til 10am. Then we go to the packing house and sort the good crops from the bad.” The poor quality produce is exported to Russia while, if possible, the high quality produce is exported to Western Europe.

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. An Israeli government website advises that workers are also entitled to 14 days paid holiday and must receive a written contract and payslips from their employer (see here). However, for Palestinian workers on Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley these conditions seem an impossible dream.

According to Ayman: “I receive 65 NIS for an 8 hour day. My break is deducted from my pay packet. I don’t receive any sick pay and the settlers don’t pay hospital bills or provide me with health insurance. If you break machinery or lose tools the value is deducted from your wages. Trade unions are forbidden in Na’ama”.

Workers deprived of their rights

According to Ayman the settlers in Na’ama ensure that workers do not remain at the settlement long term to avoid them gaining legal rights: “The workers are only allowed to work in Na’ama for three years, after that they are asked to leave. This is because after three years the employees are entitled to an annual rise in pay.”

Companies exporting from the settlement of Na’ama

Ayman tells us: “We put the herbs in boxes and label them ‘Viva’. Sometimes the labels say produce of Na’ama, sometimes Jordan Valley. According to Ayman some of the goods from Na’ama are exported through Carmel Agrexco and some are labelled ‘Viva’.

Viva is an Israeli export company which exports herbs and vegetables to Eastern and Western Europe and North America. Corporate Watch contacted Viva in May 2014 and asked them to confirm or deny that the company exported produce grown in settlements in the Jordan Valley. We have not received a response.

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.

Container bearing Netafim Label, photographed by Corporate Watch in January 2013

Container bearing Netafim Label, photographed by Corporate Watch in January 2013

Products manufactured by Netafim and John Deere were also photographed  by Corporate Watch researchers on a visit to the settlement in January 2013. Netafim is an Israeli company which supplies greenhouses and irrigation systems. It operates in 150 countries. To read more about John Deere’s supply of products to Na’ama settlement click here.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

Palestinians have called for a boycott of Israeli agricultural companies such as Agrexco and Viva and have clearly placed their struggle as part of the worldwide movement for food sovereignty. A 2013 call to action from Palestinian activists reads: “We urge organizations and activists upholding human rights principles and the right to food sovereignty to work with us to develop campaigns aimed at ending the trade in settlement produce. The most effective way of doing so is to follow the lead of the Co-Operative supermarket in the UK which decided in 2012 not to trade with any company that sources produce from Israel’s illegal settlements. We call for an end to all trade with Israeli agricultural companies that are complicit with Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.”

“As the global food system has been shaped in the narrow interests of large multinational corporations, millions of farmers and indigenous people have faced exploitation and the destruction of their communities. We stand in full solidarity with all those who are also fighting for the right to their land and the freedom to make their own choices about food production, trade and social and environmental sustainability. Let us join together in a struggle against occupation and dispossession and for freedom, justice and equality.”