Activists Put Focus on PUMA's Complicity in Israeli Apartheid at 75th Anniversary Shareholders Meeting
PUMA was forced to acknowledge the protests in front of 200 shareholders, as activist shareholders and the new ThisIsPUMA.com website punctured PUMA's lies.
On the occasion of PUMA’s 75th anniversary, the company’s image took a hit. Over a full week of actions, the global #BoycottPUMA coalition used PUMA’s own #ThisIsPUMA slogan to expose its role in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians.
The newly-launched searing ThisIsPUMA.com website highlighted PUMA’s complicity in Israel’s apartheid regime. Palestinians, including more than 200 sports teams, are calling for international pressure on PUMA to end its partnership with the Israel Football Association (IFA), which governs and advocates for teams in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land. Thousands sent letters to PUMA and its top shareholders calling for PUMA to finally end the unethical IFA contract.
Using social media, targeted online ads, and posters in cities from Kuala Lumpur to London, campaigners “hijacked” PUMA’s online presence to show that its claim of a “devotion to universal equality” is nothing more than a whitewash of its support for Israeli apartheid.
Ahead of @PUMA's AGM tomorrow, we're taking over PUMA's online presence - demanding it stops supporting Israel's land theft by ending its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association.
— PSC (@PSCupdates) May 23, 2023
Spotted around London. Posters have appeared highlighting @puma's support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
— PSC (@PSCupdates) May 24, 2023
On May 24, activists traveled from across Europe to PUMA’s shareholders meeting in Germany. Right in the middle of “PUMA Town,” where even the manhole covers are adorned with the PUMA logo, arriving shareholders were met with Boycott PUMA banners, posters of Palestinian footballers as young as 14 killed by Israeli soldiers, chants, and Palestinian flags.
Good morning @PUMA!
We're here at the shareholders meeting calling on PUMA to end support for Israeli apartheid oppressing millions of Palestinians!
— PACBI (@PACBI) May 24, 2023
Activists from across Europe were inside and out of the @PUMA shareholders meeting in Germany, urging it to end complicity in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land.
— PACBI (@PACBI) May 25, 2023
Just meters away from the entrance to PUMA headquarters, activists wearing “Ask Me About #BoycottPUMA” t-shirts distributed flyers and explained to concerned employees and shareholders PUMA’s ties to illegal Israeli settlements, a war crime under international law.
Over the loudspeaker system, campaigners invited PUMA employees in the rooftop café to join the protests to make PUMA a more ethical company, recalled that while PUMA celebrates its 75th anniversary Palestinians are marking 75 years of violent Israeli oppression, and called out PUMA’s lies from inside the shareholders meeting in real time.
We're still here @PUMA!
And we heard you're talking about us inside the shareholders meeting!
We'll keep protesting until you end your complicity in Israeli apartheid!
— PACBI (@PACBI) May 24, 2023
PUMA was, in fact, forced to acknowledge the protests in front of more than 200 of its shareholders at the start of the meeting.
Activist shareholders then punctured PUMA’s false claims that it has no ties with illegal Israeli settlements. Speaking for nearly 20 minutes, they provided shareholders with detailed information, citing official sources, including a leaked PUMA internal memo (see questions below). They asked PUMA how it can continue to lie to its shareholders, employees, business partners, and ambassadors, and highlighted the risks of criminal prosecution and civil suits against PUMA management over its support for Israel’s war crimes.
Shareholders gave a thumbs-up to the activists and complimented them for the thoughtful, pertinent questions.
PUMA could do no better than to respond curtly with its tired “no ties” lie, which left shareholders wondering why it was evading the questions.
The impact of the campaign is evident, as major sports teams such as the Oakland Roots, Luton Town, Qatar Sports Club, Forest Green Rovers, and Malaysia’s top university have all dropped or pledged not to sign with PUMA in response to the campaign. In the leaked memo, PUMA admits it has had to deal with an increase in expressions of concern from its own business partners and brand ambassadors.
The impact couldn’t have been clearer, however, than during the shareholders meeting, when PUMA’s CEO accidentally referred to the “Better Cotton Initiative,” or BCI, as “BDS,” a reference to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which leads the global Boycott PUMA campaign.
PUMA is clearly haunted by the growing boycott campaign and knows that Israeli settlements are illegal and bad for its image, otherwise it wouldn’t put so much energy into trying to entrench its lies about not having a relationship with them.
The activists left PUMA Town encouraging PUMA to instead direct its energies and apply its “Forever Faster” slogan to ending its complicity in Israeli apartheid by dropping the IFA partnership.
They signed off with a Terminator-esque “we’ll be back,” vowing to maintain the pledge of #NoRestForPUMA until it stops supporting Israel’s violations of basic Palestinian rights.
Plans are already in place for the next Boycott PUMA Global Day of Action, set for June 24, 2023.
PUMA has a sponsorship contract with the Israel Football Association (IFA), as the IFA annual report shows, which is due to expire in June 2024.
Human Rights Watch has documented that the IFA, the governing body of football in Israel, includes in its official leagues teams based in illegal Israeli settlements on stolen Palestinian land. Israeli settlements are land grabs and constitute a war crime according to international law. The United Nations, the EU and its member states do not recognize illegal Israeli settlements as part of Israel.
According to HRW, illegal Israeli settlement teams “contribute to and benefit from serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.” They are built on land that has been unlawfully seized from Palestinians, and provide employment and other services to illegal settlements.
In its 280-page 2022 report entitled “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity,” Amnesty International called on businesses to ensure that their own activities “are not contributing to or benefiting from” Israel’s system of apartheid.
Legal Scholar and former UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk has stated, “Germany and the EU should not allow PUMA's activities in the occupied [Palestinian] territories. Countries, and their domicile corporations, should not have economic relations with Israeli settlements because they are illegal under international law, and the UN Security Council has directed the international community not to assist the settlements in any way.”
In 2018, 235 Palestinian sports teams, some of whom have lost promising young football players to Israeli sniper fire, called on PUMA to end its complicity in Israeli apartheid. Since that time, more than 138,000 people have joined that call. Sports teams such as the Oakland Roots in the United States, Luton Town in the UK, premier league Qatar Sports Club, and Malaysia’s top university football team all have dropped PUMA over its complicity in Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.
A leaked internal PUMA memo acknowledged in 2021 that the company has “seen an increase in the number of requests from [their] business partners and ambassadors” over its involvement in Israel’s denial of basic Palestinian human rights.
In response to the campaign, PUMA has:
- Disingenuously claimed it has no ties to illegal settlement teams while its contract is with the very body that governs them;
- Lied to its own business partners and ambassadors, as the leaked memo shows, falsely claiming it also has a contract with the Palestinian Football Association, something the PFA categorically denied.
Does PUMA agree with the UN, the EU and the German government that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal and not part of Israel?
Considering that PUMA’s contract is directly with the IFA, which governs and advocates on behalf of illegal settlement teams, how does PUMA substantiate its claim of having no ties with illegal Israeli settlement teams to its shareholders, partners, ambassadors, employees, and customers?
PUMA’s annual report says it “conducts regular due diligence on human rights & labor, environmental and integrity risks for its own activities.” Has PUMA’s contract with the IFA, which advocates to maintain illegal Israeli settlements constituting a war crime, been assessed as a risk for the company? And if not, why?
Given the growing boycott campaign and reputational damage inflicted on PUMA, will PUMA heed the call from Indigenous Palestinians and the recommendations from Amnesty International and legal scholar Michael Lynk to finally end its complicity in Israel’s human rights violations?
Questions from activist shareholder 2
As the International Bar Association has noted, corporations and their officers and managers have increasingly been “investigated and, in some cases, criminally charged and convicted or faced civil suits for core international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has clarified that companies operating in areas affected by gross human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity have an obligation to “engage in heightened human rights due diligence” and to “commit to active engagement with local communities” affected by these violations. The Working Group identified the forcible displacement of people from their communities as a case in which heightened human rights due diligence is necessitated.
Prominent international and Israeli human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem, have issued recent reports concluding that Israel is committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians.
UN Security Council resolution 2334 reaffirmed that Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise in the occupied Palestinian territory “constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” Israeli settlements result in the forcible displacement of the Palestinians from their lands and constitute a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court .
PUMA has a contract with the Israel Football Association (IFA), the governing body responsible for teams and sports facilities in illegal Israeli settlements.
PUMA’s annual report states that it performs human rights due diligence in accordance with the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. Has PUMA implemented heightened due diligence given its direct relationship with an Israeli actor complicit in war crimes? If not, why? If so, has the due diligence been published?
Which, if any, Palestinian stakeholders has PUMA engaged with in order to gain a “sound understanding” of the impact of its activities on local communities as recommended by the UN?
Given the increased focus on criminal liability for corporations contributing to the commission of international crimes, and PUMA’s complicity in the commission of a war crime, does PUMA consider the company, its officers, and managers at risk of criminal prosecution and/or massive civil lawsuits? Has PUMA seriously assessed this daunting risk?
Does PUMA consider ending its contract with the IFA as long as the IFA includes teams based in illegal Israeli settlements as a means for mitigating the risk of being held criminally liable?