Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson became the brand ambassador for SodaStream, the Israeli company that makes products in the illegal settlement Ma’aleh Adumim on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. Johansson released a statement saying:
I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights. That is what is happening in their Ma’ale Adumim factory every working day.
Oxfam International, the international aid and development group of which Johansson is a global ambassador, distanced itself from the actress saying that it “believes that businesses that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support. Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.”
Below is a factsheet from the Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU) detailing how SodaStream has profiteered from Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation…
- SodaStream International Ltd. is an Israeli company that produces carbonization devices and syrup for making soft drinks at home. In recent years, it has become the target of human rights activists because its main production facility is located in an industrial park, Mishor Edomim, in the Israeli settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim on Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
- According to international law, as an occupying power Israel is forbidden from altering the occupied territories in any way, including through the construction of settlements and industrial parks, except for reasons having to do with military necessity or to benefit the occupied population specifically.
- Although SodaStream officials and their defenders often claim that the company benefits Palestinians economically, SodaStream pays taxes to Israel, not to the Palestinian Authority. SodaStream and other companies located in settlements also directly support Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise by paying taxes to local municipal settler governments, which are used exclusively for the growth and development of those settlements. Ma’aleh Adumim, where SodaStream’s main factory is located, is of particular strategic importance to Israel’s plans for the occupied territories, forming part of a ring of Jewish settlements around occupied East Jerusalem that sever it from the surrounding West Bank, and jutting deeply into the latter, effectively cutting it into two parts more easily controlled by the Israeli military.
- While, technically, Palestinians who work in settlements are largely covered by Israeli labor laws, there is little enforcement of labor regulations in settlements. As a result, Palestinian workers, including women and children, are frequently exploited by Israeli employers.
- SodaStream’s Mishor Edomim factory has been the subject of numerous complaints by Palestinian workers over the years, having to do with low wages, discrimination, and poor working conditions. In 2008, Palestinian workers staged a protest at the factory after the contractor that hired them refused to improve working conditions or raise their pay, which amounted to less than half the legal minimum wage at the time. Seventeen workers were fired before they were rehired following unflattering press coverage and pressure from NGOs. However, in a 2010 report, Israeli NGO Kav LaOved, which works on labor issues, noted that Palestinian workers at SodaStream’s Mishor Edomim plant continued to be “at the bottom of the hierarchy in the factory and remain fearful of dismissal.”
- Palestinians who work for SodaStream and other companies that operate in settlement industrial parks also face severe restrictions on their movements and their ability to organize to protect workers’ rights. They have to be approved and obtain special permission from Israel’s General Security Service (Shabak). As noted in a report issued by Israeli NGO Who Profits?, “Their dependence on these permits limits the workers’ employment choices and makes organizing almost impossible.”
- In addition to a pool of cheap Palestinian labor and minimum enforcement of labor regulations, SodaStream and other companies that operate in settlement industrial zones enjoy low rent, tax incentives and other forms of government support, as well as lax enforcement of environmental laws. All settlement industrial parks are defined as Priority Area A by the Israeli government, which qualifies them for special tax deductions. As noted by Who Profits?:
These tax deductions are usually offered as incentives for the development of businesses in areas of the country which are far from the major Israeli urban centers; but the main settlement industrial parks are a short driving distance from Israel’s urban centers, and this gives them a competitive advantage over industrial areas inside the State of Israel.
- SodaStream has a history of mislabeling its products as “Made in Israel,” to avoid controversy and boycotts of settlement products.
- SodaStream stock has been billed as a hot property since the company went public on the NASDAQ in November 2010. However, in January 2014 the price of SodaStream shares plunged after the company reported preliminary earnings that failed to achieve analysts’ estimates.
- The drop in stock price came shortly after SodaStream announced that it had hired actress Scarlett Johansson as a spokesperson.