British businessman promises to resign as chairman of Israeli settlement exporter
Jimmy Russo, the Company Chairman of EDOM, has told Corporate Watch that he plans to “resign” from his chairmanship and “actively seek to sell” his 20% shareholding in the Israeli company. His announcement was in reply to questions about new evidence found by Corporate Watch that EDOM UK, the Israeli company (despite the misleading name), is packaging cherry tomatoes in the Israeli settlement of Beit Ha’arava in the occupied Jordan Valley.
EDOM UK cherry tomatoes acquired from a packing house in the illegal settlement of Beit Ha’arava – Photo taken by Corporate Watch researchers February 2013
Back in 2010 Corporate Watch urged Russo to divest his shares. We wrote:
“To continue to maintain shares in EDOM is to ignore the suffering of those who have lived their entire lives under Israeli apartheid and occupation. The only way to remain ethical in this context is to divest.”
Russo, who is also the director of British company Valley Grown Salads (VGS), made the following “commitments” on 7th February 2013:
“1. I will confirm that I will resign as [EDOM] company chairman with immediate effect as I do not want my company, VGS receiving this constant harassment every year and being involved in political situations which are totally out of my control.
2. I will actively seek to sell my 20% stake holding in the company as the aggravation for no reward is not worth continuing with.”
Russo confirms that VGS will not source goods from the West Bank in the future but says that the company will continue sourcing from EDOM and other companies in Israel.
Russo also pledged to answer questions put to VGS by Corporate Watch and other media outlets.
Corporate Watch has contacted EDOM but has not received a reply.
On 4th February 2013 Corporate Watch researchers visited Beit Ha’arava and entered a packing house where cherry tomatoes were being packaged. The majority of the packing house was taken up with packaging EDOM UK tomatoes. The tomatoes were labelled “Quality Fresh Produce: Israel” despite the fact that Beit Ha’arava is a settlement in the West Bank.
Corporate Watch contacted Jimmy Russo on 7th February and asked “Does EDOM/VGS source its produce from Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley?”, and pointed out that the company had pledged in 2010 not to deal with the settlements any more.
“Regarding produce from the Jordan Valley and in accordance with EU guidelines, 2012 the company Edom is taking produce from the Jordan valley. I understand that Edom source up to 2% of its produce from that region, mainly cherry tomatoes. I can CONFIRM that VGS does not take any tomatoes from Edom or Israel.”
“I can also confirm that VGS holds 20% stake in the company [i.e. EDOM] which was formed in 2003 as a vehicle to supply product from Israel at a time when the industry was experiencing chemical problems in Spain. The company has been extremely successful with the majority of the product going into Russia.”
Corporate Watch went on to ask Russo about what steps the company takes to ensure that products are labelled accurately. Russo responded:
“Regarding the question of labelling product from the West Bank, this I understand is part of a DEFRA/EU directive and because the product is going to Russia it does not come under the jurisdiction of the DEFRA/EU.”
“Regarding any professional status of Israel goods under the EU/Israel associated [sic] agreement I am not aware of any benefit whatsoever. For future reference the Managing Director has assured me all product leaving from that zone that is subject to labelling will be done so in accordance with guidelines provided.”
It is the job of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to ensure that Russo and VGS live up to their commitments to divest from EDOM.
By exporting from the occupied Jordan Valley EDOM is profiting from the exploitation of a captive workforce living under occupation and from settlement expansion which is facilitated by home demolitions and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the movement continues to target EDOM and its remaining investors. Russo confirmed that these were Magnolia UK Holdings – 30%, Chosen Agricultural Products – 30% and Glinwell – 20% (suppliers to Tesco’s).
Finally, it is important to keep the pressure on VGS to stop sourcing from Israeli companies like EDOM who source products from the illegal settlements. Any sourcing of goods from EDOM, whether those goods are from 1948 Israel or from the West Bank, sustains settlements such as Tomerand Beit Ha’arava where the company continues to operate. These settlements are making profit from the labour provided by a captiveworkforce of Palestinians living under occupation.