Co-operative Group Moves to End Trade Links with Those Who Trade With the Settlements
What was it that Norman Finkelstein said in that notorious interview? That BDS is a ‘cult’. Well it’s not so much of a cult that Britain’s fifth largest supermarket group has moved to sever links with Israeli companies that source from the Occupied Territories.
And none of this means that we therefore support trade with Israel inside the Green Line, but half a cake is better than no cake, especially when the best is yet to come!
Now that the Co-op, which feared having to face down debates at its Regional AGM’s, with the possibility of calls for more a more stringent Boycott, has taken the first move we can apply pressure on the other groups to match the Co-op.
Palestine human rights campaigners today welcomed news that the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, The Co-operative Group, will “no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements”.
The Co-op’s decision, notified to campaigners in a statement, will immediately impact four suppliers, Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin, Israel’s largest agricultural export company. Mehadrin sources produce from illegal settlements, including Beqa’ot in the Occupied Jordan Valley. During interviews with researchers, Palestinian workers in the settlement said they earn as little as €11 per day. Grapes and dates packaged in the settlement were all labelled ‘Produce of Israel’.
Mehadrin’s role in providing water to settlement farms and its relationship with Israeli state water company Mekorot makes the company additionally complicit with Israel’s discriminatory water policies. Other companies may be affected by the Co-op’s new policy if they are shown to be sourcing produce from Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Territories.
Hilary Smith, Co-op member and Boycott Israel Network (BIN) agricultural trade campaign co-ordinator, said “we welcome this important decision by the Co-op to take steps toward fully realising their policy of support for human rights and ethical trading. The Co-op has taken the lead internationally in this historic decision to hold corporations to account for complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. We strongly urge other retailers to follow suit and take similar action”.
The announcement by the Co-op came just before their Regional AGMs, due to take place over the next two weeks, and where motions on this issue have been submitted for discussion. For months Co-op members have been highlighting their concerns about trade with complicit companies through co-ordinated letter-writing and discussions with local offices.
A spokesperson from the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, which works to improve the conditions of Palestinian agricultural communities, said:
“Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin profit from and are directly involved in the ongoing colonisation of occupied Palestinian land and theft of our water. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, so we warmly welcome this principled decision by the Co-Operative. Other European supermarkets must now take similar steps to end their complicity with Israeli violations of international law. The movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law is proving to be a truly effective form of action in support of Palestinian rights”.
Campaigners say that this widening of the Co-op’s human rights and trade policy represents a victory for the BDS campaign, called for in 2005 by over 170 Palestinian civil society organisations. Actions across Europe to highlight the issue of complicit agricultural trade companies have included co-ordinated popular boycotts, pickets of supermarkets, lobbying and blockades of company premises.
Last year Agrexco, formerly Israel’s largest agricultural goods exporter, was ordered into liquidation after posting record losses and failing to pay its creditors. Shir Hever, Israeli economist and commentator who researches the economic aspects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, said that one factor was “the fact that Agrexco has been the target of an international boycott campaign, in protest at its role in repressing Palestinians”.
All other major supermarkets in the UK continue to trade with the companies that are now barred under the Co-op’s human rights and trade policy.
The Co-operative and the illegal Israeli settlements,
27th April 2012
Since 2009, The Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, which establishes the exceptional circumstances under which we will withdraw all trade from a particular state, area or settlement.
One such circumstance is where there is a broad international consensus that the status of a settlement is illegal.
There are only two examples of such settlements: the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara.
On this basis, our policy has previously been not to source any produce or own-brand product from the Israeli settlements (or from Moroccan settlements). Since its adoption, this position has been underpinned by a rigorous monitoring process.
On the 25th April, The Co-operative’s Board determined that, going forward, we will additionally no longer engage with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from the Israeli settlements. This decision will impact four suppliers*, and circa £350,000 of trade.
In reaching this decision the Board was mindful of the additional costs involved in the tracing and auditing of all produce supplied by these businesses.
In line with the Board’s decision, we have audited our supply chain and identified a small number of businesses that we can no longer source from, as there is evidence that they source from the settlements.
This position is not a boycott of Israeli businesses, and we continue to have supply agreements with some twenty Israeli suppliers that do not source from the settlements, a number of which may benefit from a transfer of trade.
We will also continue to actively work to increase trade links with Palestinian businesses in the Occupied Territories.
27th April 2012
*The four suppliers are Agrexco, Arava Export Growers, Adafresh and Mehadrin.