Beigel & Beigel

Israeli pretzel company

Information on Beigel & Beigel

“Unilever to sell stake in plant based in West Bank settlement”
by Toni O’Loughlin,
The Guardian, 1 December 2008

The food and soap manufacturing multinational Unilever announced that it will divest from an Israeli factory in a Jewish settlement illegally built on land confiscated from Palestinians.

Unilever, which makes household staples such as Sunsilk shampoo, Surf washing powder and Vaseline, said it would sell its 51% stake in the Beigel & Beigel factory in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The UK and Dutch-owned multinational has followed Harrods department store – which cleared its shelves of Beigel & Beigel products, such as pretzels, in August – and a campaign by Britain to crack down on Israeli settlement businesses that are allegedly dodging EU import taxes.

Unilever’s announcement also came ahead of a report on its investment in the occupied territories by United Civilians for Peace, a Dutch human rights group.

UCP said the decision of Unilever, which defied the international boycott against South Africa during the apartheid era, showed that the firm was “serious” about international law and social responsibility.

But Unilever Israel, which bought half of Beigel & Beigel in 2001, said the move was strategic, not ethical.

“This decision has been taken with reluctance after a long period of analysis and review,” it said.

“Following the divestment in recent years of a number of non-core businesses … the decision has been reached to divest of its interests in the bakery business and will therefore seek to find a buyer for Unilever’s share in the Beigel & Beigel partnership,” the company said in a statement.

Ariel is one of three large Israeli settlement blocs that penetrate and separate northern and southern parts of the West Bank. It is surrounded by a network of roads that Palestinians are forbidden to use without special permission.

The settlement is built on land that Israel conquered in the 1967 Six Day war. According to UCP, the land for the Beigel & Beigel factory, in Ariel’s Barkan industrial estate, was confiscated from the surrounding Palestinian villages in 1981 by a Israeli military order.

“International law prohibits the confiscation of occupied land not for military purposes,” the UCP report says.

It also claims that Unilever is in effect supporting Ariel because it pays taxes to the Shomron regional council, which provides services such as rubbish disposal to Barkan. In return, Unilever receives, via Beigel & Beigel, some of the “generous” subsidies that Israel pays companies to produce in settlements.

Companies that operate in settlements also benefit from employing cheap Palestinian labour, the report says.

At Beigel & Beigel, 45% of the 140 workers are Palestinians from the surrounding villages whose land was confiscated for the construction. Most of them work on the assembly line operating machines and contrary to Unilever’s own labour standards, they are not paid the Israeli minimum wage, the report claims.

Many workers are paid to work 46.5 hours a week but they often work 50 hours with no compensation. One worker, who must pass through a checkpoint gate to go home after work, told UCP that he is often unable to return to his village.

General information on the illegal Israeli settlements and settlement products

Since the 1967 military occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, Israel has built in these occupied territories civilian colonies, or settlements, and encouraged Israeli citizens and industries to move into them. Presently there are 135 Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and dozens of additional “outposts” – settlements not yet officially recognized by the Israeli government. These house over 562,000 Jewish Israeli residents: 282,000 in the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem), 260,000 in neighborhoods built in Arab Jerusalem or annexed to Jerusalem, and 20,000 in the Golan Heights.

The Israeli civilian construction has been one of the methods in which occupied areas were effectively annexed, partially or in full, into Israel. The on-going construction includes housing developments as well as extensive infrastructure projects such as roads and water systems for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers, on lands confiscated from Palestinians or declared “state lands” in various ways. The Israeli colonizing efforts are illegal by international law that stipulates that an occupying power moving its citizens into an occupied area is in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and any permanent changes made in the occupied land for such settlers is in violation of The Hague Regulations.

Israeli industrial zones within the occupied territories hold hundreds of companies, ranging from small businesses serving the local Israeli settlers to large factories which export their products worldwide. Several settlements, especially in the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights, produce agricultural goods, such as fruits and flowers, and sell them in Israel and abroad.

Settlement production benefits from low rents, special tax incentives, lax enforcement of environmental and labor protection laws and other governmental supports. Palestinians employed in these industrial zones work under severe restrictions of movement or organization, and with hardly no governmental protections, this many times results in exploitative employment practices and labor rights violations.

The origin of exported settlement products is often intentionally obscured. Companies hold marketing addresses within Israel, or market their products under a label which mixes their products with products from within Israel.

Industrial Parks for Economic Control.

The establishment of industrial parks on the “seam” between Israel and the Palestinian state is a key strategy in subduing popular Palestinian opposition to continued Israeli presence and control in the Occupied Territories. Seven such parks have already been built, with several other in various stages of planning and construction. Yet, while providing employment to the Palestinian workforce, these industrial parks threaten the economic viability of the Palestinian state, maintain a dependency relationship on Israel and present dangers to the environment. They allow Israeli firms continued access to cheap Palestinian labor while denying the workers access to Israel (a key component of the “separation” strategy). Although they pay higher salaries than Palestinians can earn in their own de-developed economy, the wages are still well below Israeli minimum wages and benefits. The proximity of Israeli industrial parks to weaker Palestinian industries nearby creates unfair competition and in the end saps Palestinian cities of their economic vitality. (They also provide crucial economic anchors to the settlements whose residents manage the parks and the factories, as the Sha’ar Binyamin project illustrates.) Just as serious, the lax environmental standards and low costs means that these industrial parks attract Israel’s most polluting industries – chemical, aluminum, plastics, metalworks, batteries. Though established in Palestinian areas (or specially-created Industrial zones), these parks ensure Israel’s ability to continue dumping its industrial wastes into the West Bank.

(extract from “The Matrix of Control” by Jeff Halper, ICAHD)