John Lewis refuses to boycott SodaStream
Last week’s announcement that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is to investigate G4S for its work in supplying the Israeli security services in the occupied West Bank sent an important message to all companies trading in the Israeli occupation: they are under new scrutiny.
The news from the OECD, combined with December’s UK government guidance to companies to consider their “reputational damage” if trading with illegal Israeli settlements, suggests that a turning point has been reached which may push companies such as G4S to reconsider their links with the occupation.
One company which the Palestine Solidarity Campaign believes should reconsider urgently is the John Lewis Partnership, with its two brands — the department store John Lewis and the supermarket Waitrose.
John Lewis is a major carrier of SodaStream, which has its main factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial sector of the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim.
In 2013, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK (PSC) focused on John Lewis as part of its boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) work, launching an ongoing campaign to persuade the company to cut its settlement ties and stop stocking SodaStream.
Protests are held outside its flagship London store every other Saturday, and shoppers are informed before going in that John Lewis, through its sale of SodaStream, is profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
But correspondence between John Lewis' management and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign reveals what appears to be a commitment by the company to ignore, not just its own Responsible Sourcing Code of Practice, but also international law regarding the Israeli occupation and the settlements.
In a September 2013 email to the PSC, Stephen Cawley, head of sustainability and responsible sourcing at John Lewis, wrote: “John Lewis is aware that the International Court of Justice regards Israel as occupying the West Bank in violation of international law. Equally, we understand that the Israeli High Court of Justice recognizes that Israel holds this territory under ‘belligerent occupation,’ although does not recognize they do so illegally. Having said this, there is currently no international ban on trading with Israel or Israeli companies.”
Cawley also wrote: “We do not discriminate against or boycott companies that obey the law, and respect the rights, interests and well-being of their employees, their communities and the environment.”
But according to the PSC, settlements breach UN Resolution 446, which states that they have “no legal validity.” The European Union is equally clear, stating that settlements are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”
Cawley’s final email to the PSC ignored ethics and ended with these words: “John Lewis will continue to sell SodaStream products, and any decision to stop stocking them in the future would be made solely on commercial grounds.”
The next fortnightly protest outside John Lewis, 300 Oxford Street, London takes place tomorrow, Saturday 18th January 2014 12-2pm.
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