Open letter to Irish company considering takeover of Agrexco
Chairman, Total Produce
Charles McCann Building
29 July 2011
Dear Carl McCann,
We, the undersigned Palestinian civil society representatives, including farmers unions, agricultural organizations and popular committees, wish to express our deep concern at reports that Total Produce is considering purchasing Agrexco, an Israeli company complicit in Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid. We write to alert you about Agrexco’s complicity with Israeli war crimes and illegal activities in the colonial settlements built on occupied Palestinian land, and the significant negative impact the broad and determined global movement to boycott Agrexco has had on the company’s image and profitability. We urge you to forgo this ill-conceived idea of buying a company that markets most of the illegal produce of Israel’s colonial settlements and that has suffered a fatal financial blow, partly as a result of a vigorous boycott that will no doubt continue regardless who the new owners may be.
Purchasing Agrexco can only be seen by Palestinians and international supporters of a just peace as feeding Israel’s impunity and helping cover up its grave violations of international law and Palestinian rights. It is also a deep insult to Palestinian civil society which has almost unanimously called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully abides by its obligations under international law. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian agricultural organizations have called for a full boycott of Agrexco, and have expressed strong support for taking legal action against Agrexco, in France and elsewhere.Purchasing Agrexco would deem your company complicit in Israel’s violations of international law, and make it, therefore, a legitimate target for legal action and popular boycotts.
Agrexco, the partially state owned Israeli exporter, is deeply complicit with violations of international law. Agrexco exports produce from and operates within illegal Jewish only settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. In a court case in 2006, the General Manager of Agrexco UK at that time, Amos Orr, testified that Agrexco markets 60-70% of the agricultural produce grown in Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.
Photographs taken by researchers show Agrexco signs on packing houses for agricultural produce in illegal settlements. Human Rights Watch profiled Agrexco in a recent report entitled Separate and Unequal detailing Israel’s systematic discrimination against Palestinians. The report explains how Agrexco profits from Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and notes that the produce exported by Agrexco is grown using water stolen from
Palestinians. In these ways, Agrexco profits directly from and provides an economic incentive for the continued colonisation of Palestinian land and resources and the accompanying military brutality and violations of Palestinian human rights.
Within the legal and ethical framework of corporate responsibility, a company bears the responsibility for all its commercial undertakings that may violate human rights, labour and environmental standards. In its 2004 ruling on Israel’s illegal Wall, the International Court of Justice affirmed that states have a legal obligation to discourage business relations which contribute to the maintenance of the illegal situation created by Israel. This includes business with Agrexco. Renowned international law experts have stated that businesses such as Agrexco as well as these companies’ individual directors and staff members can be held accountable for violations of international law as principal perpetrators or as complicit accomplices. Individuals who handle or receive agricultural produce from the illegal Israeli settlements may be criminally liable under domestic legislation relating to the handling of stolen goods.
As a Global GAP member, Total Produce must undoubtedly be keenly concerned at the operational level about the traceability of produce. Israeli exports and Agrexco products in particular have been routinely mislabelled, and Israeli export companies and officials have consistently misled partner governments and companies, concealing the facts about products originating from the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The EU Court of Justice has ruled that such Israeli products do not qualify for preferential customs treatment under the EU-Israel Agreement and has 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 products marked ‘made in Israel’ and has also voiced concerns that consumers cannot be certain that goods labelled in this way are not sourced from illegal settlements. Researchers have documented evidence of Agrexco itself being involved in the deliberate mislabelling of produce from illegal Israeli settlements.
The central role that Agrexco plays in Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory and the accompanying daily violations of Palestinian human rights has made the company a principal target of the South Africa-style movement of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. This movement, of which the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and a number of prominent Irish NGOs and trade unions, as well as international NGOs, trade unions, faith groups and farming organisations are active supporters, is a key factor behind Agrexco’s significant loss of reputation and market share.
Agrexco premises throughout Europe have been repeatedly blockaded and picketed and the company has been the target of successful legal action in France. More than 20 campaigns and organizations from 13 European countries recently committed to taking coordinated action against Agrexco. Protests at supermarkets and public education led by NGOs and trade unions have discouraged the purchase of Agrexco produce, apparently leading producers in Israel to report a significant downturn in sales in the wake of Israel’s 2008-09 massacre in Gaza. Indeed, the fact that many farmers are abandoning Agrexco, most likely as a result, at least partly, of the widespread boycott campaign targeting the company and its brands, has been a contributing factor to the current financial crisis afflicting the company. As the Palestinian leadership of the campaign against Agrexco, we can state with absolute certainty that any company that purchases or provides finance to Agrexco will be targeted in a similar way.
We note with interest the prominent position you devote to corporate responsibility in your annual reports and your online presence. We trust that your commitment to being a “responsible corporate citizen” indicates respect for international law and universal principles of human rights and equality. Total Produce must immediately end all activity relating to the purchase of or investment in Agrexco if it is to avoid rendering these statements meaningless. Failure to do so would make Total Produce legally and morally complicit with Israeli violations of international law and would undermine our non-violent struggle for the UN-sanctioned rights of the Palestinian people.
As you are based in a country all too familiar with colonial occupation and institutionalised discrimination, we sincerely hope that Total Produce will take a stand in support of freedom, justice and equality.
We look forward to receiving your reply to this letter.
Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC)