Thursday, November 20, 2008

Who profits off of occupation?

The news item below was published by IPS, Inter Press Service News Agency, "a communication institution with a global news agency at its core … [which] raises the voices of the South and of civil society … brings a fresh perspective on development and globalization." (quoted from the IPS website:

In the following item, IPS journalist Ida Karlsson reports on one of the findings of a data base project of the Coalition of Women for Peace ( "CWP," she writes, "… an Israeli feminist peace organization … has built a database with information about companies in industrial zones within the occupied territories," companies that, in other words, make profits off of occupation. The database, in fact, is still under construction, to be officially launched in the near future.

Activist Merav Amir, of the Coalition of Women for Peace, explained to Karlsson that Israeli companies operating in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are granted "reduced taxes, little or no enforcement of labour laws, a captive labour market, very cheap real estate prices and lax enforcement of environmental regulations." (This is a further example of Israel's land-use practices – the topic of a recent JPN posting; part of what makes "real estate prices" "very cheap" in the occupied territories are government handouts of illegally appropriated Palestinian land.)

Karlsson reports that among the companies listed in the CWP database, Plasto Polish, an Israeli firm situated in the West Bank "Barkan" industrial zone, is a sub-contractor of Vileda, an international manufacturer of household products. However, she notes, Vileda also belongs to the U.N. Global Compact, whose member companies worldwide pledge to advance social responsibility and sustainability. This blatant inconsistency could lead in future to Vileda's "delisting". Other companies, she remarks, including the Dutch Heineken have recently decided to "move their facilities from the occupied territories, primarily to avoid negative publicity".

"Negative publicity" is partly up to individuals and the public worldwide. Transparent, responsible and detailed data about the firms profiteering on occupied lands offers each of us the option for relatively simple, direct intervention; for letting firms know that consumers consider their practices unacceptable. Such a channel for broadening consumer resistance to the occupation is a new, unprecedented opportunity.

The movement I am active with in Israel, New Profile, is a member group of the Coalition of Women for Peace. The CWP, like numerous other non-profits today, is now facing severe financial problems (see the CWP statement, appended below). These endanger the whole breadth of CWP activity, including the research still in progress towards establishing and publishing this groundbreaking database. While privately owned Israeli companies have profited for years from the benefits of occupation, many of those working (often for years) to resist the occupation in Israel are struggling hard to stay afloat.

Rela Mazali


Corporate Vows Tested in the West Bank

Ida Karlsson

A company that is a member of the U.N. Global Compact for corporate social responsibility has ties to production in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank considered illegal by the United Nations.

A spokeperson for the company, Vileda, an international household products firm, said he was unaware of the contract with a manufacturer in the West Bank, Plasto Polish. However, a representative of Plasto confirmed in a telephone interview with IPS that the company was a subcontractor for Vileda.

"Companies have a social as well as a legal responsibility and must therefore take no part in the illegal occupation," Merav Amir of the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), told IPS. "In order to comply with international human rights law, companies should make sure that their businesses have nothing to do with the occupation."

CWP is an Israeli feminist peace organisation that carries out grassroots research, and has built a database with information about companies in industrial zones within the occupied territories. An IPS investigation revealed that Vileda appeared in both that database and the list of U.N. Global Compact participants.

Amir says companies located in the territories benefit from reduced taxes, little or no enforcement of labour laws, a captive labour market, very cheap real estate prices and lax enforcement of environmental regulations.

The U.N. Global Compact is intended to encourage businesses worldwide to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies, and to report on their implementation. It stresses 10 principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.

The corporate responsibility initiative sets out standards of behaviour for companies that are closely corresponding to the international legal obligations of states. This includes, as a minimum, a duty for companies to fully respect international humanitarian and human rights law.

According to the Global Compact, companies should "support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights."

Vileda, whose French division is a member of the Global Compact, subcontracts business to Plasto Polish, which manufactures and exports household cleaning products, mainly scouring sponges and cleaning pads. Plasto is located in the Barkan Industrial Zone, which is an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

On its website, Vileda says, "Our company and its family shareholders together are committed to protecting the environment and being responsible corporate citizens in all countries and communities in which we do business."

Other companies have recently decided to move their facilities from the occupied territories, primarily to avoid negative publicity. The Dutch beer company Heineken has closed down its facility in the area Barkan and the Swedish lock company Assa Abloy also announced that its production unit on the West Bank will be moved after eight years of production.

According to international humanitarian law, all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory are illegal, whether built on state or private land. The settlements also constitute a major constraint on the peace process. This has been underscored by the international community through U.N. Security Council and General Assembly resolutions.

Matthias Stausberg, the Global Compact spokesperson, told IPS that the initiative is not in a position to monitor the member companies.

"Of course we want the companies to reflect the values and policies of the United Nations, but we need more information on this case to be able to comment it further," he said.

"We do not expect the companies to be perfect when they join the Global Compact," Stausberg explained. "It is more important that they are a part of the initiative so they can improve in the long run."

He said that information about the companies is put in in a public database and then the public at large, civil society and the media can read and report when companies are not adhering the Global Compact principles.

"We could delist a company for human rights violations if it is brought to our attention and if the company is not willing to engage in dialogue. We do have that possibility," he stressed.

The Global Compact currently has more than 6,200 participants, including over 4,700 businesses in 120 countries. In June, the Global Compact announced that 630 companies had been delisted for "failure to communicate progress".

Israeli industrial zones within the occupied territories hold hundreds of businesses and factories, ranging from small businesses serving the local Israeli settlers to large factories which export their products worldwide.

In 1979, the U.N. Security Council determined that "the policy and practice of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

The Middle East Quartet -- the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States -- has also expressed its collective opposition to the settlements and has, on 18 occasions since its inception, warned of the dangers of continued expansion to the process.




Dear friends,

As we wrap-up 2008 and look forward to continuing our groundbreaking feminist activism for peace in 2009, we would like to share with you some of the highlights of 2008 and invite you to become an active partner in the international network of the Coalition of Women for Peace.

With the global financial crisis, we can not continue counting only on traditional funding sources such as foundations. We need the support of all women and men who share our commitment to a social and political change in the Middle East region. We need you!

Mobilizing Women's Peace Activism
This year we mobilized hundreds of women and men in a demonstration in Tel Aviv in June marking 41 years of occupation. Throughout the year we campaigned to end the cruel siege on 1.5 million residents in Gaza.

Exposing the Economy of the Occupation
Our newly established information centre on direct corporate profit from the occupation has provided critical information to several successful campaigns around the world. For example, the Swedish corporation Assa Abloy announced that they will move their factory from illegal settlements in the West Bank. See our continuously updated online database (soon to be officially launched).

Engaging Youth and Women - Reaching Out to Diverse Communities in Israel In our long-term outreach program "Reframing Security as Human Security" and our political education and empowerment program in Russian for women immigrants we engaged over 1,200 community leaders, predominately youth and women, in social justice, peace education and activism.

We need your support TODAY to continue our work tomorrow

How To Give

1. Write a check to "Coalition of Women for Peace" and mail it to: P.O Box 29214 Tel Aviv 61292, Israel

2. For a US-tax deduction, please make out a check to "New Israel Fund". Write in the memo line "For the Coalition of Women for Peace", and mail it to NIF, 1101 14th Street NW, 6th Floor, Washington, DC 20005-5639 (minimum they will accept - 100$)

3. For more ways to give and to give online please enter
4. Thank you for your solidarity and support!

Contact Us
Email: || Visit us at P.O.Box 29214 Tel Aviv-Jaffa 61292, Israel || Tel: (+972)-508575777

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Rela Mazali
Sarah Anne Minkin
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