Arms deal crusader Terry Crawford-Browne has found a new cause – the growing local resistance against the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
And on Monday, he laid a complaint on behalf of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) against Woolworths, South Africa’s second largest grocer by market capitalisation, for allegedly trading in stolen goods. Crawford-Browne says he has been a member of the campaign since 2006.
At the centre of Crawford-Browne’s complaint is a research report from Palestinian-Jewish lobby group Who Profits, endeavouring to show that Israeli producers lumped in products from occupied territories with their own and exported them as Israeli. Who Profits cited prior research it had done on Israeli home carbonation system maker SodaStream, whose principal manufacturing facility was based in the occupied West Bank.
Woolworths told City Press on Friday: “We are aware of the complaint and believe it is completely groundless.” The retailer has already faced down in-store protests from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement for stocking Israeli goods. It finally obtained a court order halting the protests, and agreed to a confidential meeting with the group in December.
In its complaint, which City Press has seen, the PSC said Woolworths was “complicit” in receiving and trading in stolen products by retailing products grown on Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.
“The Who Profits report was made available to the directors of Woolworths on 3 February 2015, together with a request for a considered response,” the complaint reads.
“The PSC further submits that this deliberate mislabelling of agricultural exports is a sanctions-busting ploy employed by the Israeli government and companies, which is intended to negate the prohibitions contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention and other instruments of international law.”
City Press has seen correspondence between Crawford-Browne and Woolworths chief executive Ian Moir since PSC requested comment on February 3. In it, Moir stood firm, saying Woolworths does not rely on its suppliers to “define” its labelling.
“We have full traceability of all our products back to source. We do not source from the occupied territories as defined by the Consumer Protection Act.”
On continuing to stock products from Israel, he said Woolworths’ board and executive committee had discussed it and would not take a “unilateral” position contrary to the government’s decision not to impose trade restrictions on Israel.
“We will continue to label our products clearly and accurately and allow our customers to make their own choices,” said Moir.
Crawford-Browne was not happy with the response.
“Assurances that Woolworths has full traceability of its products back to source are not credible and are meaningless,” he said.
“The Woolworths letter also makes it very clear that despite the risk to its reputation, the corporation intends to defy international labelling regulations and other instruments of international law – including the Geneva Conventions – and to continue its support of illegal Israeli policies and practices.”
*This story was modified on February 20 2015 to include Woolworth’s comment, which was not originally available at the time of publication.