4 October 2008
The Royal Dutch Embassy
14 Abba Hillel Street
The Royal Netherlands Representative Office to the Palestinian Authority
12 Hollanda Street
P.O. BOX 1899
Occupied Palestinian Territory
P.O. Box 28
1000 AA Amsterdam
Dear Ambassador Michiel den Hond, Mr. PRJ Dumore, Mr. Jean-François van Boxmer,
As a Palestinian human rights organisation committed to the promotion and protection of human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq welcomes the decision by Barkan Wineries, an Israeli subsidiary of Tempo Beer Industry Ltd. Drinks, to remove its activities from the industrial zone of the illegal settlement of Barkan, in the northern West Bank, and transfer them into Israel. This divestment conclusion is a result of positive developments in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), including the excellent commitment demonstrated by the Dutch consumers; Heineken N.V. (who have a 40% share in Tempo Beer Industry Ltd.); and the Dutch government.
CSR is a process whereby a company assumes responsibility, across its entire supply chain and within its operational “sphere of influence” to ensure it is not complicit in, amongst other things, human rights abuses. The primary normative basis for the responsibility of corporate entities to comply with human rights law is found in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "every individual and every organ of society… shall strive…to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”
In the OPT, not only are the human rights of the Palestinians systematically violated for the express benefit of the settler population but additionally under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an Occupying Power is prohibited, in the first place, from transferring part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. Such transfer of settlers into occupied territory is a war crime under customary international humanitarian law. Therefore, any company which operates within the illegal settlement system is complicit with violations of international humanitarian law.
The weakness of international enforcement mechanisms means that corporate compliance with international law, including human rights law., despite being obligatory under international law, remains within the realm of self-regulated voluntarism. It is in this light that Al-Haq extends its praise to the Dutch and the strength and effectiveness of the triumvirate relationship between consumer, corporation and government in rectifying the unlawful gains made through profiteering from illegal settlements.
In a globalised international market, the influence of many companies does not remain limited to their country of origin but extends internationally. Companies can therefore affect the enjoyment of human rights, both negatively and positively. In the
OPT, international economic activities serve as a financial main-stay for illegal Israeli settlements, such as Barkan, helping to sustain their illegal presence.
In this specific example, Barkan Wineries acknowledged the very direct impact that consumers have in compelling businesses to adopt a legal and ethical approach to where they invest. A Barkan Wineries company directors’ report to their stockholders stated that “in the past, the location of the company’s winery at the Barkan area caused a negative image and made difficult the exporting of the Barkan brand. The company is acting to change this image…” Consumer objection to the location of the Barkan brand within an illegal settlement has had the direct casual effect of compelling the brand to relocate.
Heineken, as a corporate entity, has a praiseworthy track record of adhering to corporate social responsibility policies. Heineken is one of 38 Dutch member companies of the UN Global Compact, who have promised to “support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights”, and to “make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” It is essential that the legitimacy of corporations be based on a social contract expressed in international agreements and through negotiations between relevant stakeholders groups, including consumers, that corporations adhere to human rights law.
Lastly, the Dutch government has taken a proactive relationship approach to corporate social responsibility. This is very significant because the government indirectly assists companies operating abroad, including through foreign embassy services, and is itself an active participant in the market. When direct and indirect governmental support is given to Dutch companies that are active in foreign markets therefore there is a certain implied co-responsibility of the government in those activities. Having implemented the Organisation for Economic and Co-operation Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the Dutch government expects multi-nationals registered within its jurisdiction to adhere to the Guidelines when operating abroad.
The success in achieving divestment from one of the illegal settlements located within the OPT, namely Barkan, illustrates the necessity for civil society, corporations and government to coordinate their activities in partnership, with the common aim of ensuring that international law, including human rights, are upheld at all times. In the OPT, CSR is not a “luxury” ideal to be achieved but a legal and ethical obligation to ensure that every aspect of society meets its obligations under international law.