4/28/15 Food Coop General Meeting Discussion Item: SodaStream Boycott

The following is the spoken portion of our 4/28/15 presentation of our SodaStream boycott.  Download our visual PowerPoint presentation here.

SodaStream Boycott proposal

The Food Coop should stop selling products manufactured by SodaStream, an Israeli soda-making appliance manufacturer.  SodaStream has come under condemnation from International human rights groups for operating its main factory in an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank in direct violation of international law.   SodaStream exploits cheap land and water confiscated from the indigenous Palestinian owners.  It exploits Palestinian labor and enjoys tax benefits and lax regulation of environmental and labor protection laws.   The Coop should join the growing non-violent movement to boycott SodaStream for these various violations and uphold its mission not to carry goods that are produced through exploitation.

Who we are

We’re a group of long-time, committed Food Coop members who love our Coop and take our Mission Statement very seriously.  We are Jewish and non-Jewish, gay and straight, old and young.   Some of us are children of survivors of the Shoah.  Others have friends and relatives in Israel and Palestine.  All of us are human rights activists –not single issue people–who have worked throughout our adult lives on anti-war, social justice, anti-racist, labor, queer, environmental, food justice and anti-colonialist issues.

Why Soda stream?

Since 1996, SodaStream’s main production facility has been located in the occupied Palestinian West Bank in an industrial park in the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. These Jewish-only settlements are built in violation of International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits colonization of land controlled by an occupying military power and recognizes the settlements to be illegal.  Ma’aleh Adumim is not part of Israel, nor is its industrial park Mishor Adumim–it’s land that was stolen from Palestinians.  Nevertheless, SodaStream labels their products “Made in Israel” or “Made in China” to mislead buyers who want to avoid settlement-made products.  Recently, a group in Portland, Oregon succeeded in getting the US food and Drug Administration to force SodaStream to label its products  “made in the West Bank”.  Israel has occupied Gaza and the West Bank since 1967.  The Israeli military protects settlers who steal land and water from Palestinian people.   The lives of Palestinians are made miserable by Israel’s human rights violations including restriction of movement and of economic development.  In 2005 Palestinian civil society called for a non-violent movement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Right now, there is an international campaign supporting a boycott of SodaStream products.  We should not be buying a product made by a company whose owners profit from theft of land, water and resources in violation of International Law.

SodaStream Doesn’t Benefit Palestinians

Although SodaStream employs about 500 Palestinians in the West Bank, it helps sustain an occupation that denies the basic rights, including economic rights, of 2.6 million Palestinians. SodaStream and other companies located in settlements support Israel’s illegal land grab enterprise by paying taxes to support their development.

Unemployment in the West Bank is well above 20%.  The settlements and the system they are part of reinforce the economic realities that often leave Palestinians with no choice but to work within the system that oppresses them.  For years, Palestinian workers have complained about how SodaStream’s factory in Mishor Adumim pays them below minimum wage (sometimes half to a third less), discriminates against them, and other unsafe and poor working conditions.

In July 2014, 60 Palestinian night shift workers were fired from the plant after complaining about inadequate food rations.  The workers who were fasting in observance of Ramadan were not allowed to bring their own food into the factory and found themselves without adequate food after 16 hours of fasting.  They were fired by verbal notice only prior to being axed without pre-dismissal hearings as required by law.  Palestinians who work for SodaStream and other companies that operate in settlement industrial parks face severe restrictions on their movements.   They have to obtain special permission from Israel‘s General Security Service.  As noted by Israeli NGO “Who Profits? “Their dependence on these permits limits the workers’ employment choices and makes organizing almost impossible.”

SodaStream and the Environment

SodaStream’s main factory is in the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim that manages the infamous Abu Dis landfill, located in a Palestinian town.  More than 1,100 tons of waste from Jerusalem and Israeli settlements are dumped there every day.  The Israeli Ministry of Environmental Protection has called the landfill  “the most polluting waste disposal site in the country.”  A Palestinian university research team has documented soil and water contamination as well as toxic gases in the air.

From 1997-2007, Israel was demolishing housing of Palestinian Bedouin families living in Area C and forcefully transferring them to homes adjacent to the toxic land fill, thereby, freeing-up land to benefit Jewish settlements.

On the eve of Earth Day, 2014, the Earth Day Network ended its partnership with SodaStream.

SodaStream in the Naqab (Negev) is Complicit in Human Rights Abuses

SodaStream’s stock value dropped dramatically in 2014, partly because of the successful international boycott.  Soon after, the company announced it would close its West Bank factory and relocate to the Lehavim industrial zone inside Israel’s 1948 borders, where it already owns and operates a plant.

Lehavim is located near Rahat, a centuries-old Palestinian Bedouin town in the Naqab (Negev) Desert.  SodaStream supporters claim that because this factory is located in 1948 Israel and not in the Occupied Territories, its products should not be boycotted.

But as in Mishor Adumim in the occupied West Bank, labor rights violations abound. SodaStream’s Palestinian workers have been paid below-minimum wages. Workers (including mothers) are being required to work 12-hour evening shifts assigned on short notice.  Complaints frequently result in dismissals.

Since 1951, Israel has been forcibly removing Bedouins from their lands in the Naqab to make way for the industrial center and Jewish-only settlements.  Israel deems certain villages as “unrecognized” and does not provide water, electricity, or other services.  Even in the Israeli- “recognized” Palestinian Bedouin villages, living standards are much lower than those in other parts of Israel.  While SodaStream has presented its decision to relocate to Rahat as a positive step for an area with high unemployment, the reality is that cheap Palestinian labor and unenforced labor laws for this population are what continue to make relocation attractive to SodaStream.  Palestinian Bedouin are being offered low-paying factory jobs to replace the agriculture they’ve practiced for generations.  SodaStream supports and profits from Israel’s harsh discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens and thereby remains complicit in the Occupation.

What does the Food Coop membership agree on?

“We seek to avoid products that depend on the exploitation of others.”

“We strive to be a responsible and ethical employer and neighbor.”

“We are committed to diversity and equality. We oppose discrimination in any form.”

   – PSFC Mission Statement

past Food Coop product boycotts have included:

  • South Africa during the apartheid regime
  • California grapes when United Farm Workers called for improved wages and conditions

the Food Coop currently boycotts:

  • Coca Cola because of their complicity in murders of Colombian union organizers as well as their appropriation of water and other resources
  • Flaum Appetizing because of their refusal to pay court-ordered back wages

Our call for a SodaStream boycott is on a similar vein of food justice.  We sell SodaStream, manufactured on confiscated Palestinian land in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.  Palestinian workers there have no freedom of assembly or expression and are a vulnerable workforce who are unable to unionize.  While Palestinian workers are supposed to get paid minimum wage, Israeli  labor and civil rights legislation are rarely enforced when Palestinians’ labor rights are violated.  As part of our Coop’s opposition to discrimination in all forms and support of racial and economic equality in the workplace and for workers, we should boycott SodaStream.

International and National Support for the Boycott

We’ve supported the Food Coop’s refusal to sell products of all other companies, and countries, whose policies are in egregious violation of our Mission Statement.  The PSFC Boycott Policy stipulates that any such boycott must be part of an effective local and national campaign in support of it.

To that point: attention to the injustices posed by settlements where SodaStream is located is backed by national and international human rights organizations.  They include the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, which have repeatedly condemned Israel’s settlements as illegal and were deemed as such by the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Our own United States State Department has issued an extensive human rights report (http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/220568.pdf) which outlines the many human rights abuses, concerns and inequalities between the two populations both in the settlements and within Israel’s 1948 borders.

And so, we’re calling for collective action in support of this international call for the boycott of SodaStream–a call that is also supported by:

  • American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers)
  • Oxfam International
  • Global Exchange
  • Code Pink
  • the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church
  • Jewish Voice for Peace
  • Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church

And many many others including both Jewish and non Jewish, in the U.S. and abroad support this boycott.  In alignment with our Food Coop’s Mission Statement, we’re asking our institution join the growing international movement to boycott SodaStream.