Israeli settlement goods
The churches have been involved for many years in work aimed at building peace in Israel and Palestine. A number of ECCR members and the World Council of Churches (WCC) are concerned that some British and Irish retailers are undermining efforts for peace in the region by selling goods such as fruit, vegetables, cosmetics and DIY products produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Settlements are Israeli civilian areas situated in territories occupied by Israel in 1967. They are illegal under international law, specifically article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids an occupying power from transferring its civilian population onto occupied land.
ECCR fully recognises the right of Israel to peace within its pre-1967 borders including the right to trade internationally with produce from within those borders.
Israeli settlements have been severely criticised by the United Nations and by numerous governments including those of the UK and Ireland. Various UN and human rights organisations' reports have shown that the presence of these settlements severely impairs the social and economic life of Palestinian communities.
The WCC believes that international trade in settlement goods helps to bolster settlement economies and helps such settlements become financially viable and more permanent entities. This hinders attempts to bring a just peace to the region based on international law.
Retailers that stock settlement goods unwittingly contribute to this situation, and there are additional problems associated with the sale of such goods in the UK and Ireland.
Labelling and consumer choice
It is often difficult for consumers to identify whether or not goods have been produced in Israeli settlements. In the UK many supermarkets now label settlement goods as products of 'West Bank'. While geographically correct, this label does not enable consumers to tell whether the goods originated in a settlement or from a Palestinian enterprise.
This is not just a problem for consumers. A group of British lawyers have recently released legal advice stating that UK retailers whose labelling of food products originating in settlements is misleading could be at risk of prosecution.
Incorrect payment of customs duties
There are also examples of settlement exports to the European Union failing to pay the correct levels of customs duties by unlawfully taking advantage of the EU's trade agreement with Israel, the EU-Israel Association Agreement. By this agreement, many Israeli goods are subject to lower levels of customs duties when exported to the EU. The agreement does not, however, apply to Israeli settlements, which as stated above are illegal under international law.
There is evidence that settlement goods may often be labelled as Israeli in order to benefit from this trade preference. Checks carried out by UK customs authorities between January and April 2009 discovered 529 cases of such mislabelling.
The fact that some settlement goods are mislabelled for customs purposes also raises questions as to whether retailers are necessarily aware of the extent to which settlement goods are present within their supply chain. It also means that they could be selling goods that have unlawfully entered the EU.
ECCR has been in dialogue with ten British and Irish supermarket chains to highlight concerns about Israeli settlement goods. We have been asking them whether or not they source settlement goods and, if they do source them, how they label them. We also want to know what mechanisms supermarkets have to distinguish between goods produced in settlements and those produced within Israel's pre-1967 borders, to which the WCC's concerns do not apply.
Most of the major UK supermarkets have now stopped sourcing fresh fruit and vegetables from settlements, although some still appear to source a few manufactured or processed goods from the occupied Palestnian territories. Of the Irish supermarkets, only the Musgrave Group appears to have any policy on this issue.
Find out more
Read ‘Settlement products: an economic barrier to peace’ ECCR, Bulletin, June 2009 (p. 12)
Find out more about the WCC’s work for peace in Israel and Palestine
Read ‘UK economic links with Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory’, Profundo economic research for the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, February 2009
For more information, please contact Suzanne Ismail, ECCR's Researcher.