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Apartheid in the fields: From occupied Palestine to UK Supermarkets

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Israeli agricultural export companies are profiting from the Israeli colonisation of Palestinian land.

In 2005 a broad coalition of Palestinians made a call for ordinary people all over the world to take action to boycott Israeli goods, companies and state institutions: “We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.”

This call has inspired a global solidarity movement aimed at targeting Israeli capitalism in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against oppression. We have compiled articles and interviews with Palestinian agricultural workers and farmers in the West Bank and Gaza, together with information on many of the Israeli exporters and UK supermarkets, as a resource for campaigners seeking to follow this call.

Palestine Solidarity for Families

DSC00115

Demolition of a home in East Jerusalem, as depicted by a child of the Amro family. The children continue to suffer from anxiety, trauma, and bedwetting following the partial demolition of their home in 2015.

Sodastream, Hewlett Packard, and Barclays Bank have been among a number of key targets of Palestine solidarity activists in the last few years, not to mention G4S, Elbit Systems and EDO MBM. High street supermarkets and and now even the are also facing criticism for their business practises, regarded as undermining Palestinian human rights and being complicit in illegal Israeli occupation.
Continue reading

Ecotricity promises to drop G4S

By Sarah Cobham

As the bombs continued to rain down on Gaza, on Saturday 26th July, Jon Snow of Channel 4 news hosted a debate at WOMAD festival around the theme of ‘Is the UK doing enough to tackle emissions?’ On the panel of ‘experts’ sat Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, the green electricity company that sponsored this year’s festival of music and dance from around the world.

G4S rooftop banners

Banners hanging from the roof of G4S’ UK office in Crawley during a rooftop occupation by activists in 2012

An hour into the debate Mike Gurney of Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign questioned the relationship between environmental and human rights concerns, and spoke about Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. He was followed by Sarah Cobham, who brought the audience’s attention to Ecotricity’s meter reading contract with G4S (a company with an appalling human rights record which provides equipment to prisons and checkpoints on behalf of the apartheid state). She asked Dale Vince “When are you are going to end your contract with G4S which has such an appalling human rights record” to a resounding round of applause.

He clearly wasn’t surprised by the question, and announced:

“We’ve been troubled by some of the things G4S have done, and are alleged to have done, and we began the transition away from G4S probably about 6 months ago. We’ve switched meter reading in the biggest region of the country for us by customers, which is the southern region as a trial for a new supplier and we’re rolling out across the country. So, the answer to your question is that it’s already begun.”(1)

A group of Palestine solidarity activists had planned to hold an action as the debate ended (calling for Ecotricity to end its contract with G4S) but given Vince’s announcement, they cancelled their action and called on those present to join them in a processions around the festival site in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

In August 2012 Corporate Watch wrote an open letter to Ecotricity, stating:

“…we urge you – on behalf of many of your concerned customers – to drop G4S Utility Services as your meter reading provider. To quote your Environmental Policy (see here http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/about-ecotricity/our-eco-credentials/our-environmental-policy), we urge you to ‘reduce the impacts of [your] own activities… by encouraging and pursuing behavioural change, from both within [your] organisation and from without’.” (2)

This followed the decision of Good Energy to stop using G4S and transfer to a different meter reading company. Ecotricity currently have some very contradictory information on their website. They state:

“We are aware that some of our customers would prefer that we didn’t use G4S Utility Services, so, for these customers we will provide an alternative meter reading agent.

“We know there are issues with G4S. They’re an enormous organisation (operating in more than 125 countries with over 657,000 employees) and parts of this huge business have undertaken activities that we do not support.”

But they also imply that they expect to have long term contract with G4S, when they also state:

“We will be using G4S Utility Services and Lowri Beck to install smart meters for all our customers within the 4 year period from January 2016 to December 2020.” (3)

Ecotricity must be held to the statement made by Dale Vince at Womad 2014, and end their contract with G4S urgently.

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skin9z7CkFc&feature=youtu.be (starts 1hr 3 mins into the video)

(2) http://corporateoccupation.org/open-letter-to-ecotricity-regarding-its-meter-reading-contract-with-g4s/

(3) https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/customer-service/give-us-a-meter-reading/meter-reading-agents

Ecotricity promises to drop G4S

By Sarah Cobham

As the bombs continued to rain down on Gaza, on Saturday 26th July, Jon Snow of Channel 4 news hosted a debate at WOMAD festival around the theme of ‘Is the UK doing enough to tackle emissions?’ On the panel of ‘experts’ sat Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, the green electricity company that sponsored this year’s festival of music and dance from around the world.

G4S rooftop banners

Banners hanging from the roof of G4S’ UK office in Crawley during a rooftop occupation by activists in 2012

An hour into the debate Mike Gurney of Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign questioned the relationship between environmental and human rights concerns, and spoke about Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza. He was followed by Sarah Cobham, who brought the audience’s attention to Ecotricity’s meter reading contract with G4S (a company with an appalling human rights record which provides equipment to prisons and checkpoints on behalf of the apartheid state). She asked Dale Vince “When are you are going to end your contract with G4S which has such an appalling human rights record” to a resounding round of applause.

He clearly wasn’t surprised by the question, and announced:

“We’ve been troubled by some of the things G4S have done, and are alleged to have done, and we began the transition away from G4S probably about 6 months ago. We’ve switched meter reading in the biggest region of the country for us by customers, which is the southern region as a trial for a new supplier and we’re rolling out across the country. So, the answer to your question is that it’s already begun.”(1)

A group of Palestine solidarity activists had planned to hold an action as the debate ended (calling for Ecotricity to end its contract with G4S) but given Vince’s announcement, they cancelled their action and called on those present to join them in a processions around the festival site in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

In August 2012 Corporate Watch wrote an open letter to Ecotricity, stating:

“…we urge you – on behalf of many of your concerned customers – to drop G4S Utility Services as your meter reading provider. To quote your Environmental Policy (see here http://www.ecotricity.co.uk/about-ecotricity/our-eco-credentials/our-environmental-policy), we urge you to ‘reduce the impacts of [your] own activities… by encouraging and pursuing behavioural change, from both within [your] organisation and from without’.” (2)

This followed the decision of Good Energy to stop using G4S and transfer to a different meter reading company. Ecotricity currently have some very contradictory information on their website. They state:

“We are aware that some of our customers would prefer that we didn’t use G4S Utility Services, so, for these customers we will provide an alternative meter reading agent.

“We know there are issues with G4S. They’re an enormous organisation (operating in more than 125 countries with over 657,000 employees) and parts of this huge business have undertaken activities that we do not support.”

But they also imply that they expect to have long term contract with G4S, when they also state:

“We will be using G4S Utility Services and Lowri Beck to install smart meters for all our customers within the 4 year period from January 2016 to December 2020.” (3)

Ecotricity must be held to the statement made by Dale Vince at Womad 2014, and end their contract with G4S urgently.

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=skin9z7CkFc&feature=youtu.be (starts 1hr 3 mins into the video)

(2) http://corporateoccupation.org/open-letter-to-ecotricity-regarding-its-meter-reading-contract-with-g4s/

(3) https://www.ecotricity.co.uk/customer-service/give-us-a-meter-reading/meter-reading-agents

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

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.

 

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.

Resist the Drone Wars – Workshop at Drone Campaign Network’s national gathering

Corporate Watch will be giving a workshop about the use of drones in Gaza. The workshop will focus on findings from interviews carried out with survivors of drone attacks in Winter 2013. More details at https://dronecampaignnetwork.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/resisting-the-drone-wars-campaign-day-14-june/

Cases dropped against arms fair campaigners

Blockade of the 2013 DSEi arms fair (Photo taken by Campaign against arms trade)

Blockade of the 2013 DSEi arms fair (Photo taken by Campaign against arms trade)

This week the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) discontinued a case against five activists charged with disrupting the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEi) arms fair. Here is a personal account from one of the defendants. Continue reading

Israeli Apartheid Week talk: University of Kent

Corporate Watch have recently visited Gaza to research Israeli drone
attacks. Drones were the weapon that caused the most deaths during the
Israeli attack on Gaza in 2012. But the Israeli drone industry is
profitable as well as deadly. Israeli arms companies, profiting from their experience gained by committing war crimes against the people of Gaza, have sold drone technology to 49 countries around the world. Israeli company Elbit are working with the UK government to develop a British drone. Come and hear the stories of those at the receiving end of of drone technology and find out how you can join the campaign to make sure Elbit don’t profit any further from the bloodshed they have caused in Gaza.