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US Campaign Letter to Oxfam

January 14th, 2014

Raymond Offenheiser
President
Oxfam America

Dear Mr. Offenheiser,

As a coalition of more than 400 groups in the United States working for freedom, justice, and equality, we are writing to express our disappointment that Oxfam Global Ambassador and Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson last week became the Global Brand Ambassador for SodaStream, an Israeli settlement manufacturer. 

Although SodaStream products are labeled as "Made in Israel," its main production site is in the industrial zone of Mishor Edomin, an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank. As a result, SodaStream enjoys cheap land and water, confiscated from the indigenous Palestinian owners; a captive Palestinian labor force; tax benefits; and lax regulation of environmental and labor protection laws.  

While SodaStream claims to be building bridges and supporting Palestinians, a May 2013 interview with a Palestinian factory worker calls into question these claims. According to this worker: "They treat us like slaves. This has happened many times on the assembly line: when a worker is sick and wants to take sick leave, the supervisor will fire him on the second day. They will not even give him warning or send him to human resources, they will immediately fire him.” He goes on to describe other harsh working conditions including working 60 hours a week and not being allowed to pray.

Another Palestinian whose family used to live on the land where Mishor Edomin now stands says: “We are not allowed to go near them [the factories]. They took our livelihood to build them and we got evacuated for them to build their factories. After they built them there were no resources to live from for us. The gains are nothing compared to what was lost. They destroyed our lives and then gave a few people a job. It is nothing.”

By choosing to locate its factory in a settlement, SodaStream is actively supporting Israel's military occupation of the West Bank.  It is inappropriate that a Global Ambassador for Oxfam like Johansson would lend her name to support a company that abuses Palestinian rights, especially considering Oxfam officials have labeled settlements "one of the main obstacles to achieving a just, lasting and stable peace in the area"  and have concluded that Israel’s settlement policy is causing poverty and suffering.

In July 2012, Oxfam International released a report, "On the Brink," detailing the impact of Israeli settlements on Palestinians in the Jordan Valley. The report recommended that the European Union take urgent action to press the Government of Israel to end the construction of settlements. On July 24, 2012, Jeremy Hobbs, Oxfam International's Executive Director, said: "Europe's condemnation of Israel's settlement expansion is welcome but words alone mean nothing when people's lives keep worsening...EU governments must match their words with urgent and concrete measures to push for an immediate end to settlement construction and the unlawful demolition of Palestinian civilian infrastructure.” 

In October 2012, Oxfam Italy cut its ties with Paola Maugeri over her role as a SodaStream PR Ambassador. In 2009, Oxfam International cut ties with Kristin Davis over her role as spokesperson for cosmetics company Ahava, which operates in the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.

We urge Oxfam to take action and press Johansson to end her deal with SodaStream or to end its relationship with the actress to send the message that supporting companies that profit from occupation and human rights abuses is unacceptable. 

Sincerely, 

Ramah Kudaimi
Membership and Outreach Coordinator

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

PDF of letter here