05 december 2008
Unilever divests from West Bank factory
Unilevers announcement follows a similar divestment by Dutch brewery Heineken. In early October, Barkan Wineries, a subsidiary of Tempo Beer Industry, owned for 40 percent by Heineken, decided to transfer its activities from the Barkan industrial zone into Israel. In an open letter to the Dutch embassy in Israel and to Heineken, praising its decision, Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq writes: “Heineken has a praiseworthy track record of adhering to corporate social responsibility policies. Heineken is one of 38 Dutch member companies of the UN Global Compact, who have promised to “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights”, and to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” It is essential that the legitimacy of corporations be based on a social contract expressed in international agreements and through negotiations between relevant stakeholders groups, including consumers, that corporations adhere to human rights law.”
Unilevers decision was announced just a few days ahead of UCPs research document on Unilevers investment in Beigel and Beigel. The report states that the land of the Barkan industrial zone was confiscated from surrounding Palestinian villages by a military order issued by the Israeli Defence Force in 1981, and declared “state land”. International Law prohibits the confiscation of occupied land for non-military purposes. Because the factory is located in an illegal settlement, Unilever stands open to accusations of the violation of Palestinian human rights and the structural discrimination of Palestinian workers. At Beigel and Beigel, 45 percent of the workforce is Palestinians from surrounding villages whose land was confiscated for the construction. They are not paid the Israeli minimum wage, UCP claims. Beigel and Beigel benefits from subsidies that are allocated by the Israeli government to the industrial zones in the settlements. Also, the factory has been guaranteed a state grant for a plan of expansion.
Unilever denies its decision has anything to do with the discussions it is having with UCP and claims that the move is strategic rather than ethical. “This is a purely economic decision. To be succinct: the products of Beigel and Beigel no longer fit in our core business. The decision has no connection with UCP’s research”, says Unilever’s senior press officer Gerbert van Genderen Sort. Beigel and Beigel is famous for its pretzels.
According to UCP, a joint initiative of Oxfam Novib, Cordaid, ICCO and IKV Pax Christi, Israeli settlements form a major obstacle to a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the industrial zones play an important economic role in maintaining these settlements.
P+ webtip: United Civilians