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Co-Op group under fire for 'hypocritical' Israeli boycott

The Co-Operative Group have come under fire for backing a boycott of certain Israeli goods while not ruling out major human rights offenders

by The Commentator on 25 July 2012 16:14

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The Co-Operative Group (the Co-Op), comprised of a range of divisions including food, travel, banking and legal services, has this week come under fire for failing to rule out Syrian imports despite the escalating regime-inflicted crisis.

The group, which is enjoying relative growth in the United Kingdom, having just announced the procurement of several hundred branches of Lloyds TSB high-street banks, was founded in 1844 and also fields candidates in political elections under the ‘Co-operative Party’ headline or in tandem with the Labour Party. The Co-Op also has strong links to British trade unions.

In tweets addressed to Dr. Ellie Cannon of The Daily Mail and Jewish Chronicle, The Co-Operative Group said, "Neither Syria nor Saudi Arabia meet the criteria for a ban" under the organisation's Human Rights and Trade Policy - and yet one Middle Eastern country, the only functioning democracy in the region, falls foul in the eyes of The Co-Op. 

In 2008, trade was suspended with various Israeli companies and in April this year, controversy arose when the group announced it would “no longer [be] engaging with any supplier of produce known to be sourcing from Israeli settlements”.

The organisation pays much attention to its ‘social responsibility’ arm, under which ‘international development and human rights’ plays a headline role, even though in 2009, the organisation missed or dropped 44 percent of its corporate targets in this area.

The Co-Op’s own documentation on international development outlines its rationale behind the boycotting of Israeli goods, dictating, “…extreme conditions… need to be breached for trade to be suspended… Where there is a broad international consensus that the status of a designated region is illegal and where there is evidence that trade is directly linked to the oppression of the population; for example the illegal Israeli settlements in the Israeli Occupied Territories, and the illegal Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara.”

This ignores a wide consensus on the fact that while much of the territories are disputed, many of the current Israeli settlements would indeed fall inside Israeli after the much vaunted ‘land swaps’ that form an integral part of potential peace negotiations.

The Co-Op’s web page on human rights and trade features a whole section on ‘Illegal settlements in the Israeli Occupied Territories’ as the only headline, with mentions of Burma, Morocco, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo generally referred to in bullet points further down the page.

A spokesperson for The Co-Op told The Commentator: "Following an audit of the Group’s supply chain, it will no longer do business with four companies, accounting for £350,000 worth of sales, as there is evidence that they source from the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories."

Meanwhile, the group doesn't rule out supplying Syrian products despite the catastrophic and egregious human rights abuses undertaken by the Assad regime over the past fifteen months. The Commentator also found evidence that despite the crisis in Tibet, The Co-Op continue to stock Chinese product. There were also Egyptian and Tunisian products in stock, despite these countries' poor human rights records.

 

Additionally, in March 2012, The Co-Op withdrew its suspension of trade with Burma, despite the country being broadly regarded as 'not free', the same as China and the Muslim-Brotherhood run Egypt, while Tunisia is regarded as 'partly free'. The only Middle Eastern state ranked as 'free' with regard to political rights and civil liberties is Israel.

Despite renewals of the Co-Op’s corporate strategy since the beginning of the Arab Spring, no updates have been made for countries undergoing assault by tyrannical regimes such as Syria, despite a wider rule on the cessation of trade ‘in the case of a conflict’ or “Where there is strong evidence that trade is a contributory factor to the perpetuation of a conflict”.

The Co-Op also partner with Amnesty International, an organisation which continues to highlight human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, a country with the worst human rights record achievable on the Freedom House 'Freedom in the World' rankings, alongside Burma on 6.5 (just 0.5 off the worst rating, 7). 

The Co-Op approach to Israel has also been called ‘hypocritical’ as their travel section contains an article entitled, “It Israeli a good place to go” which cites the Israeli Government Tourist Office in order to lure holiday makers to, and profit from, Israel’s goodwill towards tourists.

Steve Scott, Director of the Trade Union Friends of Israel told The Commentator, "Whilst we at Trade Union Friends of Israel do not play down the importance and the concern from trade unionists in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we have also been amazed at the volte face that even borders on the hypocritical for other conflicts that involve so much civilian suffering.

“At last year’s TUC Congress, policy was passed that wanted to sue for peace with Gaddafi while at the same time attacked the Israeli trade union centre, the Histadrut. This is the country with the only free and democratic trade unions in the region. I think that we need to be consistent and support the values that we hold in the trade union and Labour movement when dealing with conflict."

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