Fair employment champion urges lower protection for Palestinian workers than Israeli law

Caterpillar bulldozers are used in Israeli construction projects in the occupied West Bank, yet veteran human rights lobbyist Seán Mc Manus has not called for a boycott of US corporations that abet Israel’s crimes.

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A new set of “ethical” guidelines for US corporations investing in Israel would not offer stronger protections for Palestinian workers, according to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC).

Shareholders of three firms — GE, Corning and Intel — are scheduled to vote during April and May on whether or not they should approve the so-called Holy Land Principles. The stated aim of this code of conduct is to ensure that US dollars do not aid human rights abuses in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and present-day Israel.

Yet an analysis by the AFSC, a Quaker group, finds that the recommendations fall short of measures advocated by the Palestine solidarity movement. In particular, they do not call for corporations to withdraw any investments that abet Israel’s violations of international law.

A number of US firms were identified by Richard Falk, then the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine, as helping Israeli abuses, in 2012. They included Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar.

Unlike the new guidelines, Falk urged a boycott of these firms.

Too limited

The Holy Land Principles are an initiative of Seán Mc Manus, a priest who leads the Irish National Caucus, a group lobbying the US Congress. He has previously championed guidelines aimed at ensuring that corporations did not exacerbate the discrimination faced by Catholics in the north of Ireland.

The Holy Land Principles have been presented as following in the tradition of Mc Manus’ past work. But the AFSC has argued that they are too limited in scope to address the oppression faced by Palestinians.

The principles do not explicitly state that firms should not undertake business in the settlements that Israel is building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or have dealings with other investors in the settlements.

That is despite how such settlements constitute war crimes. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population into a territory that it occupies.

Call to abstain

Focused on citizens of present-day Israel, the principles on equal pay and opportunities would offer less protection to workers than that offered by Israel’s own legislation.

For example, the principles say that military service should not be a condition for employment in Israel, except in positions that “specificially require” such experience. The 1988 Israeli Equal Opportunity in Employment Law goes further by barring employers from discriminating based on a worker’s or job applicant’s “military profile.”

The Holy Land Principles do not grapple with how firms operating in settlements in the West Bank discriminate systematically against Palestinians.

Palestinians working in the settlements have no freedom of assembly or expression or civil rights. Minimum wage legislation applying inside present-day Israel is not enforced in the settlements.

The AFSC also complains that the principles do not explicitly refer to Palestinians and their right to national self-determination. Mc Manus and his team have not provided details of any consultation they held with groups campaigning for the rights of Palestinians when the guidelines were drawn up.

Mc Manus has issued a strongly-worded response to the AFSC’s criticisms. He claimed that the committee had portrayed Israel’s laws and American corporate behavior as “paragons of virtue” and that it was “siding with companies who wish to avoid any disclosure of their true hiring practices.”

Because of the unsatisfactory nature of these principles, the AFSC has advocated that shareholders abstain when they are put to a vote at the annual general meetings of US firms.

The group is instead recommending support for the UN’s “guiding principles” on business and human rights. Not only are those guidelines more robust, they are rooted in international law.



Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh