An Open Letter to Independent Retailers Who Sell SodaStream in Winnipeg

OPEN LETTER TO INDEPENDENT RETAILERS

Dear Owner:

I am very disappointed to learn that a highly regarded community business like yours is carrying the controversial SodaStream home beverage carbonation and syrups product line.

However, I am thinking that you may be unaware of the company’s illegal manufacturing practices and Human Rights violations in the West Bank.

An Introduction to SodaStream:

Although SodaStream’s marketing may promote the company’s products as being fun, green and healthy, SodaStream conducts the vast majority of its manufacturing illegally in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumin Industrial Park.

The company’s CEO is American-born Daniel Birnbaum. SodaStream’s factory in the West Bank has about 700 labourers and according to Bloomberg News, is surrounded by an electric fence, barbed wire, and security cameras.

According to the report, Occupation Industries: The Israeli Industrial Zones, Palestinian labourers in Mishor Adumin Industrial Park are not allowed to enter the area by car and are surrounded by military watchtowers.

Journalists are not welcome at SodaStream’s West Bank operations.

The international community and European Union consider SodaStream products to be illegal settlement goods; however SodaStream tries to circumvent international laws by falsely labelling its products as “Made in Israel” with no indication that they are manufactured in the illegal territory of the West Bank.

Moreover, according to a ruling from the European Union’s highest court in 2010, SodaStream is not entitled to claim the “Made in Israel” tax exemption from European Union customs payment.

Products made in areas settled by Israel since 1967 are not eligible for such a tax break.

The Mishor Adumin Industrial Park was built in 1998 in Ma’ale Adumin, an illegal settlement that was built in the West Bank in 1975. Mishor Adumin is one of the locations listed that the European Union states is not considered to be part of Israel.

Ma’ale Adumin is in fact the third largest illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank and according to the Corporate Watch web site had 39,000 residents in 2011.

As a small, locally owned business in the community it would be a dire mistake for your business to continue any kind of relationship with SodaStream and its products because in these uncertain economic times, when there is competition for every customer dollar, the last thing your business needs is controversy.

Your decision to continue selling SodaStream will serve to only hurt your business.

SodaStream – Human Rights and Workplace Violations:

In general, it is Palestinian labourers who fill low-ranking positions with little prospect for advancement in West Bank companies. Many companies operate there illegally and are more than willing to exploit the desperate and vulnerable labourers available.

Palestinian labourers who want to enter the West Bank for work are also required to get an independent permit from the Israeli Defence Force along with their regular West Bank Identity Card.

Furthermore, Palestinian labourers are treated as occupied subjects, not citizens, so they depend on employers for work permits which can be denied for “security” reasons.

SodaStream benefits from tax incentives and lax regulatory enforcement, as well as additional government supports.

In fact, it was last October 2011, when SodaStream promised to move its factory out of the West Bank, but it has yet to do so.

In terms of specific worker welfare issues, in April 2010 Kav LaOved, a non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of labourers in the Israeli economy, reported that 140 Palestinian labourers were fired from the SodaStream factory and not paid their previous month’s wages.

When the labourers went to the factory to request their pay, SodaStream had them removed and banned from the entire industrial park. Kav LaOved did eventually succeed in getting back pay for them and the labourers were rehired.

Kav LaOved also reported that in 2008, Palestinian labourers complained of pay far below the minimum wage and of working 14 hour days in the Mishor Adumin factory.

At that time they organized a protest at the SodaStream factory by writing letters and by conducting meetings with management.

In the end, 17 labourers were fired. Although Kav LaOved managed to get them rehired, the organization noted that they remain at the bottom of the hierarchy in the factory and fear dismissal.

The labourers who initiated the strike action were not hired back by SodaStream.

While Israel’s highest court ruled in 2008 that Israeli businesses in the West Bank are required to pay the Israeli minimum wage to Palestinian labourers, this is often not the case.

Kav LaOved has found that labourers in illegal settlements like Mishor Adumin are actually paid less than 1/2 the minimum wage [about $24 Canadian per 12 hour work day], are subject to extreme security checks and have to fend for themselves if injured on the job.

Salwa Elinat, coordinator for Kav LaOved also described the working conditions in the SodaStream factory as one of the worst, with labourers being fired if they complain about such conditions.

Since 2010, Kav LaOved has been unable to get any information about the working environment at the Mishor Adumin SodaStream facility.

The factory actually has a ban on media and security cameras monitor anyone approaching the gate outside.

Moreover, SodaStream profits do not support the local Palestinian economy. Israel’s Gross Domestic Product [GDP] per capita is $31,400 [USD] while it is less than $3,000 [USD] for the Palestinian Occupied Territories. [GDP is the total value of goods produced and services provided within a country during one year].

SodaStream’s manufacturing factory in the West Bank is in clear violation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution – 242 [1967] which required Israel withdraw from the West Bank after the Six Day War and prohibits permanent settlement of occupied lands for domestic or commercial purposes.

The Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in 1949 in the aftermath of The Second World War specifically to prevent the kinds of atrocities committed against civilians by the Nazis as an occupying power, prohibits collective punishments, transfers of a native population out of its own territory, settlement of the occupier’s population in an occupied territory, and destruction of real or personal property belonging to the occupied population, among other practices.

Israel was a signatory to the Fourth Geneva Convention document.

Moreover, SodaStream has deliberately chosen to manufacture its products in Mishor Adumin Industrial Park in the West Bank, in occupied territory, exploiting low paid labourers to produce their products for commercial purposes in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution – 242 [1967].

A Correlation between SodaStream and Apartheid:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has compared the situation in the Occupied Territories with that of South Africa under Apartheid:

“Yesterday’s South African township dwellers can tell you about today’s life in the Occupied Territories. To travel only blocks in his homeland, a grandfather waits on the whim of a teenage soldier. The lucky ones have a permit to leave their squalor to work in Israel’s cities, but their luck runs out when security closes all checkpoints, paralyzing an entire people. The indignities, dependence and anger are all too familiar.”

Therefore, a direct correlation can be drawn between the Palestinian labourers working for SodaStream in the illegal settlements and the subjugation of blacks under the apartheid regime in South Africa.

In 1948, the newly-elected Afrikaner Nationalists introduced the concept of apartheid from the Afrikaner word for “apartness.”

Black residents were denied citizenship, voting rights and they were forcibly removed to ten ethnic homelands [Bantustans] and had to carry passbooks which controlled their freedom of movement.

Similarly, in the West Bank, armed Israeli checkpoints control Palestinians’ freedom of movement every single day.

In terms of employment, Palestinian labourers who want to enter the West Bank for work must carry an independent permit from the Israeli Defence Force along with their regular West Bank Identity Card.

It is not uncommon for these work permits to be arbitrarily revoked by companies, which is why many labourers do not complain about working conditions inside these factories.

The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 13 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

The Palestinians are denied these basic Human Rights.

The world viewed apartheid in South Africa with apathy until activists and regular people became more conscious about the inhumane conditions the people were living in, the daily random acts of violence they encountered and the extreme racism they experienced.

In May and June of 1960 boycotts against South African goods were being implemented in many countries and labour organizations refused to service South African cargoes.

It was only in the mid-1980s that the International Community reached a consensus on the need to impose sanctions on South Africa, and so began a global boycott which kept South African wine out of international markets.

Eventually the United Nations Security Council Resolution – 569 of 1985 urged UN members to impose sanctions voluntarily to end the system of apartheid.

Canada in the 1980s assumed a leading role in forcing economic sanctions against South Africa, Canadian business people, activists and, clergy, played important roles in bringing about all-race elections in South Africa in 1994.

Prime Minister Kim Campbell lifted sanctions against South Africa in 1993.

In October 1963 the International Olympic Committee [IOC] decided South Africa would have to eliminate racial discrimination in sport before December 31, 1963 or it would not be permitted to send a team to the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

The South African government was not prepared to permit multi-racial sport; therefore in 1964 the IOC said South Africa was banned from the 18th. Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The IOC ban on South Africa would not be lifted until prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Any country at that time that traded with South Africa was strongly condemned by the international community.

Doing business with companies that operate illegally in the West Bank settlements should be no different.

Ironically, today South Africa is a more progressive country and is currently speaking out against SodaStream and its manufacturing in the illegal facility of Mishor Adumin Industrial Park.

In fact, South Africa recently demanded that goods made in illegal settlements in the West Bank [such as Ma’Ale Adumin] remove their “Made in Israel” label and identify such “settlement goods” for what they are:

“Illegal settlement goods”

South Africa believes if consumers have such facts before them they can then make an informed choice whether to purchase the product, such as a SodaStream home beverage maker or not.

If one takes a glance at SodaStream’s products in The Bay, Sears or Walmart, they are clearly labelled as “Made in Israel”, which is not the true origin of manufacture.

Similarly, as Canadians who strongly believe in and support the global fight for Human Rights for all peoples, we must not become apathetic and willingly accept goods produced illegally by a people living under military occupation.

That is completely unacceptable.

We must actively oppose the importation of products from any companies that earn profits operating illegally in the West Bank.

Protests and Boycotts against SodaStream:

SodaStream has been subject to international boycotts and protests throughout Europe, Australia, North America, and now the company has insidiously entered the Canadian and Winnipeg market expecting to get a free pass.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanction [BDS] movement began in 2005 with the goal to stand up for Human Rights. Anti-racism is a key tenet of BDS, and the movement also strongly opposes anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

BDS also opposes any company that profits from the Israeli occupation, and this includes SodaStream.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, author of The Colour Purple, Naomi Klein, Canadian activist/author of No Logo, acclaimed Folk singer/songwriter Pete Seeger, and activist/entertainer Harry Belafonte are just a few prominent people who have endorsed the BDS movement.

Specifically, BDS has condemned SodaStream for their illegal manufacturing and Human Rights violations in the West Bank. They have also been very successful in targeting similar companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The Bay and Ahava

The Ahava Skincare line is another example of a product that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement condemned as illegal West Bank settlement goods. Ahava products were carried at major retailers throughout North America.

Many of those same retailers faced intense pressure from the BDS movement and protests were a regular occurrence outside their stores, and because of that sustained pressure, Ahava Skincare products are no longer sold at major retailers throughout the United States.

In January 2011, The Hudson’s Bay Company and Shopper’s Drug Mart set Canadian precedents when both store chains stopped carrying the Ahava Skincare line at all their stores across Canada.

Moreover, Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS stated in Washington, DC [February 24, 2012] “Complicity is carrying a heavier price nowadays.” He also informed his audience that many companies are losing contracts because of their participation in Israeli apartheid projects, such as Jerusalem Light Rail.

In fact, large trade unions around the world have started to join BDS.

Churches Speak Out in Support of BDS:

Globally church groups have also taken up the cause of the BDS movement and are regularly speaking out against the manufacturing of illegal products in the West Bank settlements.

In the UK, the United Methodist Church voted to oppose settlement goods in 2010.

Just this past August 2012, the United Church of Canada at its 41st. General Council meeting in Ottawa voted to boycott products exported by Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

Advocating For Truthful Labelling of West Bank Settlement Goods:

European countries are taking action on accurate labelling for goods produced in the Occupied West Bank. Furthermore, just this past May 2012, courts in South Africa and Denmark ruled that Israeli settlement products must be correctly labelled. As well, SodaStream products have been stopped by customs in Germany because of their false labelling practices

Denmark is also funding a European Union initiative to help consumers boycott Israeli settlement products. France, Finland, Ireland and the United Kingdom all support this initiative. Meanwhile the Irish government has suggested the European Union should consider an all-out ban on settlement goods.

SodaStream and Green Washing:

SodaStream has also engaged in green washing. In February 2012, Legambiente, Italy’s largest environmental organization issued formal notice to SodaStream warning them of legal action for using its corporate logo without permission. Back in 2010, Legambiente also cancelled a sponsorship deal with SodaStream because of the company’s violations of international law. SodaStream has also used the World Wildlife Fund logo without the organization’s permission.

Taking Local Action Against SodaStream:

Let me be transparent about this controversial and contentious issue. The Say No to SodaStream Say Yes! to Human Rights campaign is not an attempt to exploit the complex dynamics of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

This campaign is not associated with the BDS movement or any other organization.

It is a grassroots effort to advocate on behalf of the Palestinian people, men, women and children whose Human Rights have been systematically undermined and stripped away, leaving them vulnerable with no legal protection from being exploited by companies such as SodaStream.

I am resolute in my belief that Human Rights apply to everyone and although the pervading attitudes today do not advance a truly meaningful dialogue in particular with those individuals who aim to thwart us with their virulent counter arguments, it is paramount for us to remain hopeful that in due time Human Rights will prevail.

In Canada we are fortunate to live in a democratic country, with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects and validates our Human Rights each and every day.

As Canadians we must remain knowledgeable and vigilant of the Rights and Freedoms our Charter bestows on us.

We must never become complacent because we could witness our Rights and Freedoms slowly devolve into only words on paper that slowly lose their collective power to inspire our moral and ethical consciousness to speak out on behalf of others who have been silenced.

According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Article 1 states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Clearly then, Human Rights is a noble concept that encompasses all peoples and excludes no one.

As Canadians who are on the verge of embracing the Canadian Museum for Human Rights we must take up the banner of Human Rights for all peoples.

Therefore, the CMHR represents a profound opportunity for each of us to speak out in support of Human Rights for all peoples around the world. As the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will undoubtedly teach each of us, to remain silent and look away is an amoral act.

SodaStream has become a definitive example of a corporation exploiting an occupied people to manufacture that company’s products for less than minimum wages, with no clearly defined mechanism to settle labour disputes, and the company profits generated by the militarily occupied people do not benefit the local Palestinian community.

Ultimately, SodaStream profits contribute directly to the continued expansion of the occupied settlements.

I truly believe that if more people knew about the human and ethical cost of owning a SodaStream device, they would definitely choose not to purchase this egregious product.

For example, a friend of ours was considering buying a SodaStream unit recently from a local Walmart store. When my partner informed him about the many violations perpetrated by the company he immediately changed his mind and did not make the purchase.

As law respecting Canadians we have a social responsibility to stop the sale of illegal West Bank settlement products made under conditions that violate the basic Human Rights of the labourers who produce those products.

People communicate with each other instantly in the global economy, and once Winnipeg consumers learn the truth about SodaStream products, and that you have chosen to carry this controversial brand, they may think twice before shopping at Cornelia Bean.

Simply because consumers read, they talk; they Google and YouTube stuff and they tweet about it.

I strongly advocate that as a well-respected local business owner/manager that you remain committed to the values and ethics that have guided your judgement over the years.

To continue to carry the controversial SodaStream brand will only end up tarnishing the reputable image of your business.

I completely understand that as a business owner/manager you do have the right to choose what products are best to stock for your customers, and I fully respect and support that individual right.

However, I also firmly believe that SodaStream is such an egregious company that we must remain committed to the dignity and Human Rights of people before profits, and for that one powerful reason we must say no to all SodaStream products.

I trust that we can agree that SodaStream has no place on Winnipeg store shelves.

Now that you are aware of this issue, I am respectfully asking you do the right thing, stand up for Human Rights for all peoples everywhere and make an ethical decision to no longer carry SodaStream products at your store.

There are other less controversial home beverage carbonation soda makers on the market that your business could consider carrying instead of SodaStream products.

Simply research these other beverage carbonation devices on the internet. Thank-you.

SodaStream and the Winnipeg Connection:

Unfortunately, Winnipeg plays a pivotal role in this controversy because Ms. Marta Mikita-Wilson, is from our city, and she travelled to Israel to obtain the Canadian distribution rights to SodaStream home beverage carbonation systems and syrup products.

I find it particularly disturbing that someone from Winnipeg, the national home of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, is responsible for importing this illegally manufactured West Bank settlement product into Canada for national distribution.

SodaStream’s manufacturing practices violate the Human Rights of its militarily occupied labourers.

Ms. Mikita-Wilson’s decision to import and distribute this product is an unsavoury act that only reinforces the continuing Human Rights violations of the Palestinian men, women and children who continue to suffer through these indignities.

Ms. Mikita-Wilson may be contacted at her local business office – Eco Stream: 204-415-0755.

Working Together:

I have enclosed a fact sheet and some information for you to review on this important topic. If you have any questions I may be contacted by email at jenniferbodnaruk@gmail.com, or at the above mailing address.

I trust that once you research this issue yourself, you will make the decision to visit our petition page on GoPetition.com, and search for: Say No to Sodastream and Say Yes! To Human Rights.

We are requesting businesses and governments to cease their relationships with SodaStream.

This is a Global Human Rights issue and we must act decisively and with resolve to remove SodaStream from Winnipeg.

Let’s work together to make Winnipeg and Manitoba a SodaStream Free Zone!

Say No to SodaStream and Say Yes! to Human Rights

Thank you for your consideration in this urgent matter, and your valuable time in reviewing this important material.

Respectfully,

Jennifer Bodnaruk

“Our freedom is not complete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Nelson Mandela was arrested on August 5th. 1962 and was kept imprisoned until he was finally released in 1990.

In 2002 the International Criminal Court [ICC] declared apartheid a crime against humanity.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s