Can I interest you in some bubbly water? Or perhaps a fancy soda? This past Christmas, I received one of the best inventions to date! A magical device that allows me to have bubbles in my liquids whenever I want: The “SodaStream.” Recently, you may have seen the new Scarlett Johansson ad saying goodbye to “Coke and Pepsi.”The SodaStream ad aired during the Superbowl halftime slot, and with approximately 111.5 million viewers for Superbowl 45; it makes their ad one of the most viewed advertisements of the year.
It would seem that SodaStream is doing well for itself, so why the sudden outrage at both Ms. Johansson and the SodaStream company? A company that prides itself on being a force for the future has unleashed the wrath of human rights groups worldwide. Sodastream has put itself in dangerous waters by operating a factory in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank, within an illegal industrial zone called Mishor Adumim, one of the largest Israeli occupations of Palestinian land that disconnects Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jericho. This awakens the humanitarian monster within me for several reasons.
Firstly, an Israeli company may not build and produce goods in Palestinian territories under international law. The United Nations’ Security Council decreed this in 1976 under UNSC Resolution 446 : “Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” So, right off the back, Israel is breaking the law in allowing SodaStream to construct a factory in the Palestinian territories it has taken. Of course, this leads to my favorite issue, state sovereignty, the UN and no one else for that matter, currently has the right to force Israel to stop building in the occupied territories, so the injustices continue. What are some of these injustices? Well for one, the taxes that the SodaStream company pays does not go to benefit the Palestinian territory it inhabits, but rather directly to the Israeli government. This is revealed in a report by WhoProfits, a research center dedicated to exposing the commercial involvement of Israeli and international companies in the continued Israeli control over Palestinian and Syrian land, which also states that the SodaStream factory is benefiting from their business in the occupied territories due to “tax incentives, lax enforcement of regulations, as well as additional governmental support.” Even more critically, SodaStream and Israel are lying about the production, using “Made in Israel” stickers to mislead consumers about the land usage and abuses of the Palestinians.
Another key issue for me is workers’ rights. Many Israelis view the Palestinians as cheap labor, who they do not need to provide a full set of rights to. Due to the rough economic condition of Palestine, many Palestinians must work in the Israeli settlements to make a living. This has led to several problems and SodaStream is taking advantage of them. According to reports, Palestinian workers are threatened with their jobs and many have been fired from Sodastream if they ask for better conditions. The list of human rights violations goes on and on in Palestine, but SodaStream and Israel have completely abandoned attempts to embrace the workers’ rights of the Palestinians as set forth by Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To compound the problem, the Palestinians are denied civil rights as well, which makes it so that they are not able to push for their own rights for fear of losing everything. Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper, puts it best when they talk of the Israeli work permits creating a situation of slavery: “If an immigrant worker’s passport has been taken away from them by their employers and made to work 12 hours a day without legal rights and protection, they live in conditions of slavery.”
SodaStream has made many claims since the leaking of this story. The first one is that they provide jobs to the Palestinians, who otherwise would not have had any. These jobs are critical to life, and many Palestinians have agreed with them in interviews. They are right in some respects, but I find that these jobs are poorly protected and the workers fail to see many of the rights that their Israeli co-workers do. The Palestinian employees often have lower positions, are coerced to work 12 hour days, and make well below the minimum wage. The inequality is immense. Unsurprisingly, SodaStream is trying desperately to avoid a PR nightmare, and recently they released a video about their factory in the West Bank. Employees claimed that all was well in the factory; they were “one big family” and received equal treatment across the board. In an interview with Palestinian news source The Electronic Intifada, a Palestinian employee of SodaStream spoke out against the video claiming “LIES” and “they treat us [Palestinians] like slaves.” Moreover, the employee states “I actually saw the company preparation work [for the video]; they were preparing all the workers and telling them what to say and how to say it.” This is one of the first responses to the video by SodaStream and it is a dangerous one. As expected, I find it difficult to discern the truth from this mess, but it is important to see both sides, and each individual must make their own choices about the conditions of the factory in the West Bank. Personally, I found the video by SodaStream to be extremely optimistic and geared towards the USA, as they have stated that they would be afraid of “a BDS Boycott.” There is still some searching to do in the West Bank, but reports, such as the ones by WhoProfits and Global Exchange are coming out about the poor working conditions and the complete abandon for workers’ rights by SodaStream and Israel.
SodaStream believes it can skew the argument in their favor by claiming that they are doing good for the Palestinian people, but in the big picture it would seem they are actually harming the overall lives of many Palestinians. They are supporting the Israeli regime through taxes and are receiving many benefits in return, while doing little to aid the illegal settlement they are stationed in. Moreover, SodaStream is lying about the production and potentially lying about the worker rights of their employees. I call for the fair treatment of employees in the West Bank and the return of rights to the occupied Palestinian territories. Great swaths of the public have already joined me in this call, as they must agree that SoadaStream is violating rights. For starters Oxfam and the public pressured Scarlet Johansson into stepping down from her ambassador position at Oxfam, as they said “Johansson’s support of SodaStream was incompatible with her role as an Oxfam ambassador.” The public has also called for a BDS boycott of SodaStream products from the factory in the West Bank, as they are operating against international norms and laws. Lastly, for anyone good with numbers, it is reported that SodaStream stock has dropped to its lowest point since 2012, and that it fell 3.3% the day after the superbowl ad aired.
Investigations must continue within SodaStream and action must be taken against the violations of human rights. We have a duty to protect the people who are crushed by oppressive regimes and large corporations, and in this case the Palestinian peoples are being harmed by both, so it is time to really think about how important carbonation is.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.