SodaStream and the Issue of Product Labelling Where the World Stands:
Internationally, progressive nations are now taking it upon themselves to introduce legislation that dictates truthful labelling for goods made in the Occupied West Bank.
Say No to SodaStream and Say Yes! to Human Rights believes that this is the direction Canada should take as well, so that Canadian consumers who support the Palestinian people but oppose Israel’s occupation of Palestine will know what they are buying.
Currently all products from the West Bank and Israel sold in Canada are labelled indiscriminately as “Made in Israel”, and this includes products made in the Occupied West Bank.
This is clearly designed to deceive consumers.
Examples of Nations that Have Moved Forward on Labelling Legislation
South Africa Progressive on Labelling Illegal West Bank Settlement Goods
South Africa recently passed legislation last year to help South African consumers identify products made in the Occupied Territory yet labelled “Made in Israel” the view was that this might help South Africans who support the Palestinians identify those products.
The ruling caused much protest from Israeli and Jewish groups and they protested after South Africa’s cabinet approved regulations to label goods previously labelled “Made in Israel” as being from the Occupied Territories.
At that time South African spokesman Jimmy Mangi told reporters:
“This is in line with South Africa’s stance that recognizes the 1948 borders delineated by the UN and does not recognize the Occupied Territories beyond these borders as being part of Israel.”
South Africa: What Happened?
Pretoria has since softened the language that will be used on goods from the Occupied Territories. While a South African retailer will still be obligated to mark goods imported from beyond the Green Line, the labels will no longer mention “Occupied” or “Palestinian”, instead of having to label goods as coming from the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” merchants will now be asked to write on the labels either “West Bank-Israeli Goods” or “East Jerusalem-Israeli Goods” or “Gaza-Israeli Goods”.
It is interesting to note that originally the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) labelling requirements were to affect Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics and SodaStream, both Israeli settlement companies operating in South Africa.
SodaStream is currently sold at Pick ‘n Pay, Checkers and Spar Stores in South Africa.
The DTI was to enforce proposed regulations that impose special labels for Israeli companies operating in the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“Consumers are now able to demand that these Israeli settlement products are removed from the shelves in line with the Consumer Protection Act. Those traders or companies that refuse to remove these Israeli settlement products will face stiff penalties.”- BDS South Africa Spokesperson Mohammed Desai
“The settlements are blatantly illegal and the Israeli companies who extract resources from the area are operating illegally.” – Open Shuhada Street (OSS) Secretary Jonathon Dockney. He said the companies in turn further the occupation by providing economic support.
OSS was the organization that first lobbied DTI and called on the government to meet its international obligations and ban trade with settlements.
It is now illegal for Israeli products to be labelled Made in Israel.
Labelling Actions by Ireland:
The Foreign Affairs Minister said Ireland would strongly support a European initiative to label exports from producers in the Palestinian state to give consumers the choice of whether they want to buy them
“Settlements in the West Bank are illegal and therefore the produce of those settlements should be treated as illegal throughout the European Union” – Eamon Gilmore. He said he strongly supports a European initiative to label exports from the Palestinian state to give consumers the choice of whether or not they would want to buy them. He said this was, “in effect” like boycotting them.
Former President Jimmy Carter is also calling for a new labelling system. “The EU has repeatedly condemned settlement expansion in the West Bank,” Mr. Carter said. It would therefore introduce a clear labelling of products made in Israeli settlements which are illegal under international law.
The Role of Illegal Settlement Products in the EU:
Products made in settlements and sold in the European Union are estimated to be worth 230m pounds a year and vary from citrus fruits and dates and carbonation devices made by SodaStream as well as plastics, textiles and toys.
In 2009, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued voluntary guidelines to retailers stating that labels on items imported to Britain from the West Bank should differentiate between “Israeli settlement produce”, and “Palestinian produce”.
According to an article in The Guardian, EU law had already required that distinction between goods originating in Israel and those from the Occupied Territories. Traders are now committing an offence if they do declare produce from the Occupied Territories as produce of Israel. previously, foods grown in Israeli settlements including herbs in supermarkets were labelled as West Bank produce and there was no distinction between Israeli and Palestinian produce. New voluntary guidelines issued by the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs says labels should give more precise information like Israeli settlement produce or Palestinian produce
A spokesman for the UK foreign office was quoted as saying, “We believe consumers should be abe to choose for themselves what roduce to buy. We have been very clear in both public and private that settlements are an obstacle to peace”.
In 2009 the EU also ruled goods made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank would be no longer eligible for preferential trade terms enjoyed by other Israeli producers.
In 2012 European Union Foreign Ministers agreed in principle to label Israeli goods beyond the green line stating that “the EU and its members are feeling obligated to fully and effectively implement existing EU legislation and agreements with Israel regarding products from settlements”.
Also in 2012, twenty-two organizations, including Christian Aid, The Methodist Church of England and Church of Sweden released a report recommending that the EU stop importing goods made in Israeli settlements.
In Canada, the Mennonite Central Committee of Manitoba recently passed a resolution on June 5, 2013 to ensure that any of its investments do not, “contribute to the suffering of Palestinian people, or any other people groups.”
MCC Manitoba Executive Director, Ronald Janzen stated: “we also want to avoid investing in any companies that produce products and services that harm Israelis. We’re against all violence and human suffering.”
Furthermore, Mr. Janzen emphasizes that this policy does not represent a boycott of Israeli products, it is an opportunity for the MCC to examine its investment portfolio to ensure that they are not invested in any companies that would potentially benefit from the tragedy and suffering of the Palestinian people.
Britain and Denmark have also been at the forefront of calls for clear and unambiguous labelling of settlement products.
However, this past June Secretary of State John Kerry had approached the European Union and requested that they postpone the labelling changes at the request of Israel. Kerry said that such labelling changes could interfere with the peace process.
Currently, Israel refuses specific labelling of goods produced in the settlements and merely provides postal codes of origin.
At the beginning of March 2013 the Dutch government created guidelines for its private sector regarding labelling products from Israeli settlements. The Netherlands is the second nation to do so following Britain. Recently half of the European Union states notified the EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton of their support for local businesses to label products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as such.
In a letter to Foreign Minister Ashton, Foreign Ministers from France, the Netherlands, Spain, Ireland and Austria wrote that the policy would be an “important step to ensure correct and coherent application of EU consumer protection and labelling legislation, which is the fulfillment of our previous commitments and is full consistent with long standing EU policy in relation to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.
EU Foreign Ministers including Britain’s William Hague and Laurent Fabius of France say they will back the labelling initiative.
“We are taking up with other European countries the commitment to prepare EU-wide guidelines on the labelling of settlement goods. This is the direction we are taking”, Hague said.
He went on to explain that the government is working with U.K. supermarkets to distinguish between food from the settlements and Palestinian manufactured goods ahead of the enforcement.
EU courts have ruled settlements are not part of Israel and labelling settlement goods as made in Israel is false.
The Example of Germany
Germany has joined other European countries in expressing support for labelling products beyond the Green Line.
The German government’s resolution, indicated by Germany’s Green Party, reaffirms Germany’s position that the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War are not considered by Germany as part of Israel.
However, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin promised Israel woud do battle against potential European Union legislation which would require products originating in the West Bank to be labelled as such in the European market.
Recognizing the Existence of Palestine:
On May, 3, 2013, the BBC reported that, “Internet giant Google has changed the tagline on the homepage of its Palestinian edition from ‘Palestinian Territories’ to ‘Palestine.’ “This change introduced on May 1, means google.ps now displays ‘Palestine’ in Arabic and English under Google’s logo.”
Furthermore, John V. Whitbeck writing for the March 2013 issue of the Washington Report magazine, wrote that, following the November 29, 2012 decision by U.N. General Assembly to admit Palestine as an observer state:
“The only legally, politically and diplomatically correct way to refer to the 22 percent of historical Palestine occupied in 1967 are now “the state of Palestine,” “Palestine” and “occupied Palestine.”
Therefore there is no legitimate reason to continue labelling goods as Made in Israel when they are in fact, Made in Palestine, by labourers living under Occupation. Canada needs to follow the lead of other countries and give its consumers the opportunity to made an informed choice about what they are purchasing.