BDS roundup: South Africa and Denmark to correctly label Israeli settlement products

In this week’s roundup of BDS news from around the world, South Africa and Denmark make historic rulings to correctly label Israeli settlement products; and international Quaker churches fully divest from Caterpillar corporation in response to the company’s role in the ongoing illegal demolition of Palestinian homes, land and property.

South Africa and Denmark move to correctly label origin of Israeli settlement products

Both governments of South Africa and Denmark recently ruled that imported products originating from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank will be labeled as such.

In South Africa, Rob Davies, minister of trade and industry, stated on 10 May in a government gazette that he “intends to issue a Notice in terms of … the Consumer Protection Act to require traders in South Africa not to incorrectly label products that originate from the Occupied Palestinian Territory as products of Israel.”

Davies’ move follows a concentrated boycott campaign coordinated between several Palestinian and South African activism groups such as BDS South Africa, Open Shuhada Street, Lawyers for Human Rights, and the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee. These groups have worked to educate South African leaders about products, including Ahava and Sodastream, which are made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank but labeled “made in Israel.”

According to a press release emailed to The Electronic Intifada from BDS South Africa, Davies’ notice follows the directive of an 8-year-long campaign by the international Non-Aligned Movement — to which South Africa belongs — calling on member states to “undertake measures… to prevent any products of the illegal Israeli settlements from entering their markets… to decline entry to Israeli settlers and to impose sanctions against companies and entities involved in the construction of the [Israeli] wall.”

BDS South Africa added,

This move by Minister Davies to have Israeli Settlement products re-labeled, provides muscle to the 2004 NAM declaration and is a concrete step against Israeli Settlement products!

The notice by Minister Rob Davies, together with the NAM declaration, will also pave the way for major consumer involvement, activism and boycott actions, particularly in relation to Israeli products such as Soda Stream and Ahava Cosmetics which are sold, in contravention of international law, in some South African stores such as Dischem, Pick N Pay, Woolworths and Wellness Warehouse. Consumers should demand that these products are removed immediately from our shelves!

Israeli trade with South Africa will no doubt be rendered far more difficult and Israeli companies wanting to do business in our country will now have to think twice.

In an 18 May article, the Cape Times reported that:

Open Shuhada Street member Zackie Achmat said last night that the department had been given proof of Ahava products being incorrectly labelled and sold locally in stores such as Dis-chem. “If any company that makes products coming from occupied Palestine says the products are made in Israel, they are breaking two laws. One is an international law under the Geneva Convention, which says you can’t occupy a country and you can’t steal its resources. The other law being broken is our Consumer Protection Act, which says you cannot falsely label a product,” Achmat said.

Additionally, the Irish Times reported that Israel’s foreign ministry will summon South Africa’s ambassador to Israel “to complain over Pretoria’s decision to label products manufactured in West Bank Jewish settlements.”

Yigal Palmor, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesperson, attempted to deflect responsibility toward international law and critique of Israeli policy by accusing “South Africa of racism by singling out Israel and ignoring dozens of other areas of conflict.” Palmor added that South Africa was “acting so callously.”

Nancy Krikorian, campaign coordinator for the Ahava boycott group Stolen Beauty, wrote in a press release on 17 May that the campaign is:

… particularly pleased to see Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories mentioned by name in this new consumer protection notice. Ahava’s fraudulent labeling, its pillage of occupied natural resources, and its direct subsidies to two illegal settlements that are co-owners of the enterprise have made the company subject to an international boycott campaign. The company’s labeling has been investigated in the U.K. and the Netherlands, and is named in a legal suit in France.

It is only fitting that South Africa, a land that experienced the efficacy of boycott, divestment and sanctions as part of a multifaceted struggle against Apartheid, should be the first country to take such an action against Ahava’s illegal practices. Now consumers from South Africa will be able to look at the label on products coming from the West Bank and to make an informed choice about whether or not they want to support an ongoing military occupation. Thank you to Dr. Rob Davies, Minister for Industry and Trade, and to Open Shuhada Street for supporting dignity, equality and justice for all people in Israel and Palestine.

Meanwhile, in Denmark, Foreign Minister Villy Soevndal stated this week that the country will begin labeling imported products for all goods from West Bank settlements “which are illegal according to international law.”

Al-Arabiya reported on Monday that:

The labeling system will be offered to Danish supermarkets and they will be free to decide if they want to implement it or not. But Soevndal said he was confident that businesses will want to partake in the system and referred to Great Britain which implemented a similar arrangement “with great success.” Soevndal also has a firm belief that the settlement issue causes so much resentment that consumers will change their behavior.

… The Danish labeling initiative comes at a time when the European Union has agreed to tighten the monitoring of the trade agreement with Israel.

Al-Arabiya added that the EU trade agreement currently exempts customs tax from Israeli imports. The article stated:

With a better identification of the origin of the goods and improved documentation at customs, the EU is attempting to make sure that manufacturers producing the goods in illegal settlements do not profit from the duty-free agreement.

“Our intention is to ensure that the trade agreement with Israel is not being used to smuggle settlement products,” said Soevndal.

These significant decisions taken by South Africa and Denmark come just weeks after the major UK supermarket chain, The Co-Op, stated that it would expand its boycott of goods produced in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land into a complete boycott of Israeli companies that source any goods in settlements.

Quaker church divests from Caterpillar

This week, the international Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation announced that it will divest from Caterpillar, the corporation which sells bulldozers to the Israeli military that are used to demolish Palestinian homes, land and property. Caterpillar bulldozers have also killed Palestinians and internationals such as US activist Rachel Corrie in 2003, who attempted to defend a Palestinian family’s home in Rafah, Gaza, from imminent demolition.

According to a press release from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Quaker FFC has divested $900,000 worth of shares in Caterpillar — a corporation which, the Campaign says, “continues to feel the pressure from all sides for its production and sale of weaponized bulldozers to Israel, used to violate Palestinian rights and destroy Palestinian homes, schools, hospitals, olive groves, and lives.”

The Campaign’s press release adds:

FFC has a “zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components,” and said, “We are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock.”

FFC is not the first Quaker institution to avoid companies that support the Israeli occupation. In March 2008, the Board of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a US Campaign member group, approved an Israel/Palestine investment screen, stating:

“Investments should not be made in any company that provides products or services, including financial services, to Israeli governmental or military bodies … or to Israeli or Palestinian organizations or groups that are used to facilitate or undertake violent acts against civilians or violations of international law.”

The AFSC investment screen is based on a 29-company “no-buy” list — originally compiled by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church — which includes Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Veolia, and Hewlett Packard. In June 2011, AFSC also joined the “We Divest Campaign,” which calls on financial giant TIAA-CREF to divest from the Israeli occupation.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).