Huge Co-op in UK dumps suppliers linked to Israeli settlements

on 30 Comments
sliced egg in Manchester
The Co-operative Group Head Office city center Manchester

The Boycott Israel Network (BIN) sent out the following press release earlier today:

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 realizing 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 colonization 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 organizations. 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.

(Hat tip Omar Barghouti)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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30 Responses

  1. CloakAndDagger
    April 28, 2012, 7:55 pm

    …and the snowball begins its descent down the hill. Godspeed!

  2. dalybean
    April 28, 2012, 8:23 pm

    “Grapes and dates packaged in the settlement were all labelled ‘Produce of Israel’.”

    The lying all the damn time is really audacious. Just another reason why one must boycott everything from Israel–because they lie in all of their labeling. There simply is no other choice.

    • jimmy
      April 28, 2012, 11:46 pm

      this is the goal and has been from the on set….take over all the area they think was some sort of israel from the past…

      I dont know why they just dont confiscate all the land …the US congress would back them till the end of time..US media…would say it all belonged to the jews anyhow,,,

      from the US congress and media prospective…hey Iran is a threat…forget about what isreal does…

    • Shingo
      April 29, 2012, 1:19 am

      The lying all the damn time is really audacious. Just another reason why one must boycott everything from Israel–because they lie in all of their labeling. There simply is no other choice.

      I agree 100%. It’s a bit like prosecuting troops who commit war crimes and not their connenders, who’s orders they were following.

    • pabelmont
      April 29, 2012, 8:57 am

      Labeling OPT products as Israel is not really lying (sort of). After all, the OPTs are as good as Israel’s, practically speaking, and if they are as good as Israeli, why not call them Israeli? Apologies to Gilbert & Sullivan:

      It’s like this : when your Majesty says, “Let a thing be done”, it’s as good as done. Practically, it is done because your Majesty’s will is law. Your Majesty says “Kill a gentleman”, and a gentleman is told off to be killed. Consequently, that gentleman is as good as dead. Practically he is dead and if he is dead, why not say so?
      MIK.: I see. Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!

      But, as dalybean says, total-BDS is the only way to go. Not only because of the lying, although that is important, but also as to the effect: when a policeman shoots at a dangerous perp, he doesn’t shoot at the perp’s hand but at his head or heart. OPT-BDS is like shooting at the hand.

  3. Sumud
    April 28, 2012, 8:41 pm

    Another defeat for BDS – not!

    On this [my emphasis]:

    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’.

    Can anyone who advocates for a boycott of settlement proceed *only* please tell me how they would handle this?

    If you tell people it’s ok to buy ‘Made In Israel’ when in fact it is settlement produce, then your boycott strategy is meaningless and ineffective – and you’ve been had by GoI. It’s not practical to people to research in to every product to see if “Made in Israel” really is made in Israel.

    Why do you willingly let yourself be taken for a ride?

    MJ Rosenberg – I saw you on the recent Al Jazeera Inside Story with Max where you spoke in support of a settlement only boycott. What is your opinion?

    • sardelapasti
      April 28, 2012, 9:27 pm

      “If you tell people it’s ok to buy ‘Made In Israel’ when in fact it is settlement produce, then your boycott strategy is meaningless and ineffective”

      In fact, little news items like this about falsification are piling up non-stop.

      These are extremely useful in educating people who still believe that there is some kind of legitimacy in the Zionist entity but are fair enough to boycott settlement products. Considering the behavior of “GoI” it won’t take long before these people decide by themselves not to be taken for a ride, stop researching each single item and just boycott the entire Light Unto Nations.

    • pabelmont
      April 29, 2012, 9:05 am

      sumud — as to MJR and OPT-BDS only — my guess is that he is trying to make BDS palatable to “liberal Jews” who he sees, perhaps correctly, as likely to resist TOTAL-BDS but as being possibly open to OPT-BDS. However, I’d like very much to hear him explain his position, especially taking this LYING-ABOUT-SOURCE into account.

  4. FreddyV
    April 28, 2012, 8:47 pm

    They just got my business!

  5. Bumblebye
    April 28, 2012, 10:00 pm

    There’s at least half a dozen of these Co-op outlets in my town – the largest being my local, just up the road. There was one large one in the town my family moved from when I was a kid. The pronunciation down south was rather like ‘cowup’. When we moved north my ears found it hard to figure out what the ‘kwop’ was!

    • Taxi
      April 29, 2012, 12:10 am

      LOL Bumbleboo!

      The co-op supermarket was my supermarket of choice when I lived in London as a student – cuz it was nice and cheap and basically for low-income people, single mothers and students. It’s always had a reputation for ‘fairness’ – though back in the day they had a limited number of brands on their shelves and their veggie stacks were a tad sad looking.

      But heyhoe just look at them now!

      p.s. I’m a card-holding member of the Santa Monica Co-op supermarket – plenty of organics and ethical-trade products there. Why not check out your local co-ops mondofolks?

      • Annie Robbins
        April 29, 2012, 12:48 am

        check this out from the embedded text in first paragraph:

        The Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned not by private shareholders but by over six million consumers. It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer, the leading convenience store operator and a major financial services provider, operating The Co-operative Bank, Britannia and The Co-operative Insurance. Among its other businesses are the number one funeral services provider and Britain’s largest farming operation. As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group has also set out its social and sustainability goals in its groundbreaking Ethical Plan, which specifies almost 50 commitments in these areas.

        when i was peeking around for a graphic i saw the little stores they have (seemingly everywhere!), and then saw this magnificent headquarters!

        so, after checking out the ethical plan link..i clicked on “Get Involved”

        and there it was: Get in touch! : contact us

        so i did! i thanked them!

      • NickJOCW
        April 29, 2012, 7:50 am

        I bank with them and use their credit card so I’ve dropped them a big thank you too! They carry a lot of weight.

  6. ToivoS
    April 29, 2012, 1:45 am

    This what a successful BDS campaign looks like. Each failure to gain another coop or mutual fund to join BDS gains Israel absolutely nothing. After a failed vote nothing has changed. But each time one of these votes succeed, Israel has lost. That is a game that I will always put my money behind. You lose a campaign, then zero gain and zero loss. You win one, and Israel loses and you win. What fool would bet for Israel with those odds!?

    Crazy as it may seem, Israel is putting all of its money on these campaigns. Don’t they understand, they lose even when they “win” because their wins have no pay off?

    Sorry, just applying a little gambling theory to this process. Not sure how appropriate it might be.

    • Sumud
      April 29, 2012, 9:20 am

      After a failed vote nothing has changed. But each time one of these votes succeed, Israel has lost. That is a game that I will always put my money behind. You lose a campaign, then zero gain and zero loss.

      It gets better TovioS.

      BDS is as much about informing people about events in Israel and Palestine, as it is about the outcome of any particular vote to B, D or S. Israel is a nation that has gotten away with it’s crimes for so long simply because people believed their hasbara.

      Now that a little reality is intruding, it’s all falling apart for the ziobots – sunlight being the best disinfectant.

      How’s that for odds? When you win, you win. When you lose, you still win.

  7. NickJOCW
    April 29, 2012, 4:51 am

    This is very good news. The Coop is a long established group and also a significant bank, I remember the stores as a child in WWII. It has a policy of ecological and humanitarian responsibility and should wield a lot of influence

  8. HarryLaw
    April 29, 2012, 6:32 am

    There are laws in the UK and Europe as a whole regarding labelling, the Consumer protection from unfair trading regulations 2008 [CPUTR] these regulations make it a criminal offence to falsely label produce or products, for example to market anything manufactured in Occupied Palestinian Territory as Produced in Israel is a criminal offence which even the UK government acknowledge is the case, Unfortunately the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights [LPHR] insisted that the regulations could only be enforced by the local Trading standards office, they are wrong, and not for the first time, any individual can bring a case to the Magistrates court, here’s how (Public) public private prosecutions;

    Although it is usually the case that prosecutions are brought by prosecuting authorities, most notably by the police / Crown Prosecution Service or local authorities, it does not necessarily mean that a private individual cannot launch his own prosecution. Some statutes are proscriptive in terms of who may prosecute under them. S 83(1) of the Weights and Measures Act 1985, for example, provides that proceedings for most offences under that Act shall not be instituted by or on behalf of anyone other than a local weights and measures authority or the chief of police. Other statutes, however, including the TDA and CPA, have no such limitations.

    In MFI Furniture Centre Ltd v Hibbert (1996) 160 JP 178, Balcombe LJ said: “S 27(1)(a) of the [CPA], which imposes a duty upon every weights and measures authority … to enforce [within their area the safety provisions and the] provisions of Part III of the Act, does not limit the powers of others to prosecute. Thus Mr Hibbert, [the local authority officer who laid the information in this case] like any other person, had the power to prosecute – see, e.g., s 6 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. … The LPHR are extremely unhelpful in these matters in their opinion if you don’t have funding they slam the phone down, so I have initiated legal proceedings on my own against AHAVA in the first instance and hope to do the same with SODASTREAM through their many outlets in the UK in the near future. Shakespeare was right ‘ first thing we do is kill all the Lawyers’.

    • pabelmont
      April 29, 2012, 9:28 am

      harrylaw — Thanks for very informative article. How much sweeter is UK law than USA’s on misleading product labeling. In USA, I dare say, the doctrine of “standing” would deny a private lawsuit unless the plaintiff could show some actual injury, in which case damages would be limited to such actual injury. That would be hard when you are suing to stop mislabeling that you KNOW to be mislabeling — your own knowledge shows that you were not misled or damaged.

      Or so I’d guess. Anyway, we do not have private public-good prosecution generally. I’ve conducted litigation (with plaintiff as quasi “private attorney general”) under our Fair Credit Billing Act, which allows “statutory damages” and attorney’s fees to a prevailing consumer plaintiff, but courts — in my sad experience — were generally very protective of credit-card companies where large damages (or large fees) were claimed, even though such lawsuits are the principal enforcement mechanism under the act.

  9. Talkback
    April 29, 2012, 7:27 am

    Didn’t Agrexco allready go bankrupt last year because of BDS!?!

  10. Blake
    April 29, 2012, 7:46 am

    Good on them.

  11. Miss Costello
    April 29, 2012, 8:23 am

    Well done, Co-op. Now let’s see how many of the other big supermarkets chains such as Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s. Morrison’s etc, follow suit; Lets not hold our breath, but the Co-op decision gives more ‘clout’ to lobbying these unethical ‘don’t care’ companies.

  12. Blake
    April 29, 2012, 11:48 am

    UK supermarket shuns Israeli-settlement goods:
    Co-Operative Group, UK’s fifth-largest food retailer, to boycott exports from illegal Israeli settlements in West Bank.

    The Co-Operative Group, a British supermarket chain, is extending a boycott of goods from illegal Israeli settlements and will now shun any supplier known to source from these areas, a statement has said.

    “Following an audit of the Group’s supply chain, it will no longer do business with four companies, accounting for £350,000 ($560,000) worth of sales, as there is evidence that they source from the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories,” the statement said.
    The UK’s fifth-largest food retailer has not bought goods from the settlements since 2009, it said, but does trade with about 20 Israeli businesses that do not source from the settlements.

    “The Group will also continue to actively work to increase trade links with Palestinian businesses in the occupied territories,” it added.

    The UN Human Rights Council in March passed a resolution ordering a first investigation into how Israeli settlements may be infringing on the rights of the Palestinians.

    Israel approved another three settlements in the occupied West Bank on Monday, a move that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said left him “deeply troubled”.

    The three outposts will now join some 120 settlements dotted across the territory that are home to more than 342,000 people.

  13. Blake
    April 29, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Haaretz too is headlining the story:
    Major British supermarket chain announces boycott of produce made in West Bank settlements

  14. HarryLaw
    April 29, 2012, 1:32 pm

    Under UK regulations anyone found to have broken the CPUTR 2008 by [a] contravening the requirments of professional diligence [regulation 3[3] [a] and [b]. it materially distorts or is likely to materially distort the economic behaviour of the average consumer with regard to the product [regulation 3[4][a] and [b] and it is [c] a misleading action 3 [4] [a] and 5] or [d] a misleading omission [regulation 3 [4] [b] and 6. These are strict liability offences for which the labelling requirments of the CPUTR 2008 are just one component, the fact that a litigant in person can take these claims to court, lessens somewhat the political interference a local authority might wield, well I hope so. In the case of a product manufactured in OPT [ remember under the Generalised system of preference ,GSP, the rules of the EU, goods originate not where they have been shipped from but where they have been manufactured, see also Brita GmbH v Hauptzollamt Hamburg-Hafen European Court of Justice Feb 25, 2010.] But sold as a product of Israel, then after that retailer had been warned of the consequences of the false labelling and does nothing about it, a strict liability offence would have occured.

    • ritzl
      April 29, 2012, 4:16 pm

      In contrast, in the US, “distributed by…” has replaced “made in…”

      It’s hard to tell at this point whether the weakening of this type of labeling in the US has anything to do with Israel, but it sure seems complementary.

      I just went into Sam’s and saw a little plastic garden cart that would work for me. As it turns out it was made “in Israel” by Keter, an Israeli company (they sell plastics everywhere in the US. Look for it!…) . Keter has at least one plant in the WB (God knows where the waste goes). I didn’t buy it.

      But because I didn’t know exactly where it was made, I couldn’t engage people that did pick one up to buy with simple challenges like “made using coerced labor” or some such (it doesn’t help that Sam’s is a Walton enterprise and totally embraces coerced labor as a rule). I could have made something up like “Factory located on land confiscated from a Christian family…” though that would have been a probable lie.

      I still struggle, knowing what I know about the situation, with how to compellingly couch “Made in Israel” with point-of-purchase advocacy for the Palestinian cause.

      Point of agreement being, it’s really hard to advocate a true and compelling story about product origin (and conditions in that production origin, and why not to buy) when labeling is so deliberately vague, and the back story is so long. It sounds like classic anti-semitism to the uninitiated, which it is not.

      Thanks for this info. Glad you euros are at least being stricter about labeling.

      • Sumud
        April 30, 2012, 2:14 am

        ritzl ~ ask and ye shall receive.

        Have you ever visited ‘Who Profits’?

        It’s a website dedicated to documenting who is making money off the misery that Israel is subjecting Palestinians to.

        You can search by company name and sure enough Keter is there. There is information there about the company and subsidiaries, and their activities.

        I also just did a quick web search using the phrase ‘who profits from the occupation meter’ and came up with this Indymedia UK article from Jan 28th this year:

        Keter Plastics targeted for complicity in occupation and apartheid

        Quoting from that article:

        In Brighton, Palestinian Solidarity activists have now turned their attention to Keter Plastics. Keter Plastic is a large Israeli manufacturer of plastic products such as garden and indoor furniture, tool boxes and storage products. The products are widely available throughout the UK and several lines are stocked in the DIY superstore.

        Keter has a factory in the illegal industrial settlement of Barkan, in the occupied West Bank. Here, as in settlement industrial zones across the region, some of the most harmful and polluting Israeli industries take place, exploiting the captive Palestinian workforce.

        As well as being built on stolen land, the environmental effects of these industrial zones has a devastating impact on Palestinian communities. The Barkan settlement dumps industrial waste and sewage into the Al Matwi Valley – contaminating a vital water source for local Palestinian villages.

        Probably if you are interested in informing people about a particular company and you know they are settlement based, direct them to the ‘Who Profits’ site and let them do a little exploration themselves.

        As always I believe when it comes to Palestine we need never exaggerate or embellish the issues, simply provide people with factual accounts and let them draw their own conclusions…

        Don’t worry about sounding like an anti-semite, unless you are of course, which I presume not. My old mum – who isn’t even vaguely interested is politics – even understands some evil stuff is going on in Palestine. I take that as a sign that the reality of Israel/Palestine has reached a critical mass among the general population. Let the truth speaks for itself.

  15. HarryLaw
    April 29, 2012, 1:52 pm

    Also, I think a court might think the commercial practice [ false or misleading labelling] about the origins of a product would be a material consideration, especially if he/she thought their money was aiding or abetting or in any way was contributing to the financial and commercial viability of these widely recognised war crimes, which of course they would be.

  16. Taxi
    April 29, 2012, 4:56 pm

    Oh my effing creator of atheism god! Dear Mondeez you must read the talkback on Haaretz about all this Co-op and BDS uplift. They’re like FLOODED with anti Apartheid customers: succinct, informed and oh so very cool-headed, with seriously high-ranking thumbs up! It seems like overnight, something clicked and changed-up. There’s more of us out there that we’d thought yesterday!

    I especially noted the numerous posts that shared the common declaration of: ‘I will start shopping at Co-op because of their stand against Apartheid in israel’. And so the Co-op can expect no financial setback from taking a stand against israel’s illegal settlements – on the contrary, it stands to gain far more customers than it may lose. Hahahaha how the tables have suddenly turned! This magnanimous decision by the Co-op will indeed encourage other businesses to voice their moral objection to israeli land and resource-theft, by joining the 21st century’s anti Apartheid BDS movement.

    This is not the slower 1980’s where stories from Soweto dripped in over time – this is the age of the internet and you can expect things to happen big quiet suddenly, in growing pockets of the populace here and there around the world, even here in America. Yes it’s dimmer here but shit like the ‘billboard wars’ in Denver, the fact that they’re happening, is actually astounding by American standards.

    Uhuh, boycotting Apartheid products can now become good for business. Outch israel!

    Natanyahu should be foning De Klerk and asking him for advice.

    But, alas, there are no safe political parachutes on the planet, De Klerk will respond.

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