SodaStream under fire over West Bank factory

2014-01-31 07:04
Palestinian workers prepare boxes to pack products at a SodaStream factory on in the Mishor Adumim industrial park, next to the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim. (Menahem Kahana, AFP)

Palestinian workers prepare boxes to pack products at a SodaStream factory on in the Mishor Adumim industrial park, next to the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim. (Menahem Kahana, AFP)

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Mishor Adumim - SodaStream, the Israeli firm under fire over its manufacturing operations in a West Bank settlement, is a global brand that produces a device for making home-carbonated drinks.

Founded in Britain in 1903, it was purchased by Israel's Soda-Club in 1998 and went public on New York's Nasdaq stock exchange in 2010.

The company's share price dropped some 20% in mid-January after announcing it had failed to achieve its profit targets for 2013.

Based at Airport City near Tel Aviv, SodaStream operates 25 factories around the world, including one in Mishor Adumim industrial park near Maaleh Adumim settlement, east of Jerusalem.

The fact that one of its factories is located in a settlement seems to have gone more or less unremarked until SodaStream announced earlier this month it had signed Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson as its "first-ever Global Brand Ambassador".

At the time, Johansson was also working as an ambassador for the international aid agency, Oxfam.

 ‘Pain in the ass’

Her nomination was immediately pounced on by Palestinian activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has previously targeted the firm as an "occupation profiteer".

It demanded earlier this week that Oxfam immediately cut ties with the actress.

Johansson stepped down from her role at Oxfam on Thursday, with the aid agency saying her promotion of SodaStream was "incompatible" with her position as their ambassador.

The 29-year-old actress has defended the operations of the drinks firm.

"SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal right," she said last week to the online Huffington Post.

"That is what is happening in their Maaleh Adumim factory every working day."

Aside from the West Bank factory, SodaStream operates out of two facilities in Israel. One is in Alon Tavor, near the northern city of Nazareth, and the other in the southern port city of Ashkelon.

And in 2012, SodaStream said it had begun constructing a new factory in Israel's southern Negev desert.

In a recent interview with New York Jewish weekly The Forward, CEO Daniel Birnbaum said the Negev factory would not mean the company would close its West Bank operations, which would put hundreds of Palestinians out of work.

"We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone's political agenda," he said, adding that he "just can't see how it would help the cause of the Palestinians if we fired them".

But he described the plant's location as "a pain in the ass".

If the Palestinians achieve their goal of statehood, SodaStream would be happy to stay and pay its taxes to the new state, he said.

"We already have factories under the control of the Chinese, the Germans, the Americans and many other countries," he said.

"So what's the problem to have a factory in the Palestinian state-to-be? We don't give a hoot where the factory is going to be."

Read more on:    oxfam  |  scarlett johannson  |  israel  |  palestine  |  middle east peace

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