Winnipeg, SodaStream and Marta Mikita-Wilson

Winnipeg, SodaStream and Marta Mikita-Wilson

In 2010, local business woman, Marta Mikita-Wilson travelled to Israel to negotiate the Canadian distribution rights to SodaStream’s Home Carbonation Beverage and Flavoured Syrup products.

Mikita-Wilson was successful in her endeavour and now SodaStream products are distributed through her Winnipeg company, Eco-Stream.

One must wonder if Marta Mikita-Wilson vetted SodaStream before she approached them to negotiate the distribution rights for Canada?

A Palestinian factory labourer says:

“SodaStream treats us like slaves.”

[Stephanie Westbrook – May 9, 2013 – at Electronic Intifada]

SodaStream’s products are boycotted and condemned around the world because they are illegally manufactured in the West Bank. The Human Rights of the labourers that produce SodaStream products and syrups are routinely violated.

• Days a Jewish Settler in the West Bank can be detained without charge – 15.

• Days a Palestinian resident of the West Bank can be detained without charge – 180.

• Number of Palestinians being held prisoner by Israel, mid-2007 – 10,000.

[Data from Parallel Report Jointly Submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms Racial Discrimination, 69th. Session, Geneva, July – August 2006]

SodaStream’s CEO is American-born Daniel Birnbaum. In a recent interview Birnbaum said he doesn’t expect problems with boycotts in the United States market like in Europe.

Birnbaum has said European protests against his West Bank factory are threatening his business but he stays for the tax incentives.

SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum in an ABC TV interview with Eric Campbell said:

• “They want me to transfer my production to China. That’s what I am hearing from these European customers and countries, and I think they’re ignorant.”

Israel: Follow the Money – ABC Australia Television program – September 20, 2011.

Furthermore, SodaStream conducts the vast majority of its manufacturing illegally in the West Bank settlement of Mishor Adumin Industrial Park. SodaStream’s factory in the West Bank has about 800 or more labourers and according to Bloomberg News, is surrounded by an electric fence, barbed wire, and security cameras.

For those labourers working in Industrial Zones in the West Bank, workplace safety is poor and workers also receive little or no help for medical treatment.

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.

A recent report from Corporate Watch, entitled Tracking Complicity in the Occupation of Palestine found the following:

“On a recent visit to Mishor Adumin it became obvious that this is not a company happy with scrutiny: its premises are the most heavily protected in the area, multi-level electric fencing protecting perimeters and cameras monitoring everything going on outside them.”

Mishor Adumin Industrial Park

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. Ma’ale Adumin is essential to completing the ring of settlements that cuts of Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Andrew Dalack speaking about SodaStream:

• “SodaStream insists in its marketing materials that they are ‘Building Bridges, Not Walls,’ but the truth is that it profits from a system of illegal occupation and settlements, based on walls and checkpoints that control, humiliate, and criminalize millions of people.”

[United States Palestinian Community Network – July 2013]

Moreover, 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, are subject to extreme security checks and have to fend for themselves if injured on the job. It is also rare to get permission to take a day off when one is sick.

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.

Recently, a professionally produced 8.5 minute video appeared on YouTube extolling the virtues of SodaStream’s Mishor Adumin facility. The underlying message throughout the video is that SodaStream is a:

• “fantastic sanctuary of co-existence”

and, despite being built on stolen Palestinian land, is beneficial to the Palestinian economy and labourers.

The video was recently shown to M., a Palestinian labourer who has laboured on the assembly line at the SodaStream Mishor Adumin facility for a long time and lives under Military Occupation in the West Bank.

To protect his identity M. spoke to the Electronic Intifada on condition of anonymity.

His immediate reaction to the blissful setting presented in the SodaStream video was one of shock.

• “I feel humiliated and I am disgraced as a Palestinian, as the claims in this video are all lies. We Palestinian workers in this factory always feel like we are enslaved,” M. said.

According to M., the labourers appearing in the video were given instructions on what to say and how to say it. Moreover, the video claims that the labourers have the freedom to practice their prayers, which M. states:

• “Those claims are all false. There is a full discrimination against the [Muslim] workers and we are denied our right to practice our religion.”

Furthermore, M., explained that the labourers at the facility work on a “four-two” system, meaning that they work for 4 days, 12 hours per day, with 2 days off – totalling about 60 hours of work in a 7 day period.

According to the Israel Hours of Work and Rest Law, a working day:

• “shall not exceed eight working hours” and shift workers “shall not be employed for more than one hour of overtime per day, and that the average for three weeks shall not exceed 45 working hours per week.”

The SodaStream facility has two shifts and the labourers change shifts every 4 days. M. explained that:

• “there is no extra pay for overtime or night shifts,” in violation of the Hours of Work and Rest Law.

Moreover, female labourers work night shifts and 12 hour shifts. Making the work day even longer, the Palestinian labourers must allow 2 additional hours for transportation from Mishor Adumin where they are not allowed to live.

M. further explained:

• “They pick us up at 6 in the morning or the evening, and we arrive home at least an hour after work. Around 14 hours you are away from home, and there is no time to see our families.”

Also in the video, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum claims that his company received no government incentives for its Mishor Adumin facility. However, all three of the company’s own Annual Reports filed with the Security and Exchange Commission in the United States, including for 2012, clearly stated that transfer of their production facilities:

• “to a location outside of the disputed territories” may “limit certain tax benefits.”

[United States Securities and Exchange Commission, SodaStream International Ltd.]

A spokesperson for Who Profits recently stated that Israeli settlement companies exploit Palestinian labourers while claiming that the work benefits them:

• “A business that operates unlawfully cannot demand legitimacy on behalf of the workers and at its expense.”

Furthermore, the spokesperson explained that in other cases of exploitive employment:

• “civil society worldwide rejected employers as legitimate representatives of their workers” and maintained instead that “major corporations and colonial powers be held accountable for their actions.”

[Stephanie Westbrook – May 9, 2013 – at Electronic Intifada]

Why do Consumers buy SodaStream?

Why would consumers purchase settlement products such as SodaStream’s home carbonation devices and syrups?

Unfortunately, most consumers are not aware that SodaStream violates the Human Rights of the labourers who manufacture the product because of a very slick and aggressive marketing campaign.

SodaStream also falsely labels their products as being “Made in Israel” when in fact they are manufactured in Mishor Adumin Industrial Park in Ma’ale Adumin, an illegal settlement in the West Bank.

These insidious SodaStream products should be labelled:

“Made in the Occupied Territory of the West Bank”

so that consumers can make an informed decision whether or not they want to contribute to the expansion of the illegal Israeli settlements and to the continuing violations of the Human Rights of the Palestinian labourers who produce the actual SodaStream products.

SodaStream shows their contempt for the average Canadian consumer by taking away their power to choose one product over another.

Moreover, why would Marta Mikita-Wilson import these egregious SodaStream products into Canada for national distribution?

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