BNC Statement

Palestinian Civil Society Urges COOP to Boycott Agrexco

We, the undersigned Palestinian civil society representatives, including farmers unions, agricultural organizations and popular committees are writing to express deep concern at reports that COOP Italia is considering entering a direct commercial agreement (albeit including a traceability guarantee) with Carmel Agrexco, the partially state owned Israeli exporter that is responsible for marketing 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

We, the undersigned Palestinian civil society representatives, including farmers unions, agricultural organizations and popular committees are writing to express deep concern at reports that COOP Italia is considering entering a direct commercial agreement (albeit including a traceability guarantee) with Carmel Agrexco, the partially state owned Israeli exporter that is responsible for marketing 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. We wish to emphasize that the proposed agreement does not mitigate, on the contrary it reinforces, COOP’s complicity in Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and apartheid.

In the following, we present some facts about the nature of Carmel Agrexco’s operations and the political situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, hoping that you shall accordingly consider ending all your relations with Carmel Agrexco.

Agrexco plays an integral part in the process of military occupation and colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It plays a key role in the development of industrial scale agri-business, which provides an economic incentive for occupation and is funding the systematic denial of the rights of Palestinians. Within the legal and ethical framework of corporate responsibility and corporate complicity a company bears the responsibility for all its commercial undertakings that may violate human rights, labour and environmental standards. The SA 8000 standard to which COOP Italy has signed up refers to actions "within a company’s scope of control and influence, who produce products or provide services for that company, including personnel employed by the company itself, as well as by its suppliers/subcontractors, sub-suppliers, and home workers". As long as Agrexco is involved in any of its operations in the Israeli settlement enterprise or other violations of human rights and international law, the participation of this company in COOP Italy’s supplier chain brings COOP Italy into direct contradiction with its stated – and largely publicized – adherence to the SA 8000 and other standards of corporate social responsibility.

Therefore, any agreement with Agrexco that excludes settlement products from being sold to COOP or – even more worrying – that ensures only correct labelling of product as sourced from the illegal Israeli settlements would not alter the relation of corporate complicity between COOP Italy and Agrexco. It is under this logic that the Norwegian Ministry of Finance sold the shares held by Africa-Israel, an Israeli company involved in housing construction both inside Israel and in illegal settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory – only a complete divestiture and ceasing of ties was adequate to end complicity with the company’s unethical and illegal practices.

Furthermore, Israeli exports and Carmel Agrexco products in particular have been routinely mislabelled, and Israeli export companies and officials have consistently misled partner governments and companies. As part of its ruling that products originating in the West Bank do not qualify for preferential customs treatment under the EC-Israel Agreement, the Court of Justice of the European Union criticised Israeli export authorities for being obstructive in their response to requests made by European Union officials. The UK government has expressed its doubts about the traceability of all products marked 'made in Israel' and admitted that shoppers cannot be completely sure that supermarket goods labelled this way are not sourced from settlers' farms. It also cast doubt over the effectiveness of the traceability systems that have already been implemented by UK supermarkets. Researchers have repeatedly documented evidence of Carmel Agrexco itself being involved in the deliberate mislabelling of produce from illegal Israeli settlements.

Even in the unlikely event that any traceability agreement between COOP Italia and Carmel Agrexco can be shown to be trust-worthy or effective, COOP shoppers purchasing Carmel Agrexco produce not sourced from the settlements will still be providing essential political and financial support to Carmel Agrexco and the central role it plays in the maintenance and development of Israeli settlements that have been ruled illegal under international law by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

By any objective standard it would seem quite unethical for COOP to continue business as usual with a company that is implicated in war crimes and to move the responsibility for ethical behaviour to its customers. COOP has its own corporate and ethical responsibility which cannot be devolved to its customers.

We are aware that COOP clearly understands the political character of its dealings with Carmel Agrexco. In fact, COOP in the planned trip cooperates with the Italian diplomatic mission to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We therefore believe that it is crucial for you to have a clear understanding about the impact of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian agriculture and livelihoods and the political consequences of continued international support to the Israeli companies which profit from the Israeli settlement enterprise and violations of Palestinian human rights.

We therefore suggest that you might be in a better position to make an informed decision about the impact of Carmel Agrexco’s continued relations with retailers such as yourselves if you are able to meet with Palestinian representatives of the cooperative movement, Palestinian civil society and farmers affected by Carmel Agrexco’s operations in the occupied West Bank before you meet with Carmel Agrexco. A working visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories to examine the situation further would indeed help your understanding of the direct impact COOP’s trade with Carmel Agrexco has on Palestinian lives and livelihoods. We would of course be delighted to facilitate these meetings and trips in any way that it could.

We are confident that COOP Italia, with such a rich history of support for democracy and ethical practices, will take the right path and uphold its earlier decision to stop the sale of all Carmel Agrexco produce. Only this comprehensive position will end COOP Italia’s complicity with Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

Signed by:
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC)*
General Union of Palestinian Peasants and Co-op Groups
Union of Palestinian Farmers
Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (STW)
National Committee for Popular Resistance
Popular Committees against the wall and settlements in Nil’in, Bil’in, Al-Maasara, Nabi Saleh,
Budros, Beit Jala and Wadi Rahal
Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees
Union of Palestinian Agricultural Engineers
Union of Agricultural Work Committees

2 For more information about the SA8000 standard see http://www.mallenbaker.net/csr/CSRfiles/SA8000.html
COOP Italia’s commitment to the standard, see http://www.ecoop.
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