June 25th, 2010 : Why the only way to trade ethically is to divest from Israel: An update on EDOM and Valley Grown Salads

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After Corporate Watch sent an open letter to Valley Grown Salads (VGS), which has a 20% share in the Israeli company EDOM UK, we were immediately contacted by Jimmy Russo - the company's director who is also the chairman of EDOM. Claiming that we had got our facts wrong, he was eager to dispute our claim that EDOM had been seen packing vegetables in the illegal settlement of Tomer in the Jordan Valley. Expressing concern that his company could become a 'target' as a result of any settlement connections, he emphasised that VGS would not trade with growers who used child labour or breached labour regulations and indicated that EDOM and VGS would not trade with the settlements in the future. Through written correspondence and a number of phone calls we have since attempted to get to the truth about EDOM's business in the settlements and inside Israel, asking Russo to explain the various pieces of evidence that point to exports from Tomer.

Prior to the letter being sent, Corporate Watch had seen an EDOM UK branded packing house inside the settlement, EDOM boxes inside it, an EDOM UK truck picking up produce from there, and had collected some EDOM UK labels (stating 'Produce of Israel) from inside the branded building.

According to Russo, EDOM used to trade with a grower from Tomer called Yair Azoulay but stopped working with him around three years ago. He said that the sign on the packing house is an old one which is now used without permission by Azoulay and that Azoulay would be told to take it down. He also said that the EDOM labels used by the grower must be homemade and that they were also being used without agreement from EDOM. He insisted that the truck that we saw proved nothing as the trucks are run by a Greek haulage company and having a brand name on them is simply a form of advertising. He then gave us a phone number for Azoulay and invited us to call him to confirm his story.

When we spoke to Azoulay, he agreed that he was the owner of the Tomer packing house and that he was using the signage on the building wrongly. Describing himself as a 'freelancer' he said that he ran a company called Doron, together with his daughter, exporting peppers and tomatoes - the same produce EDOM specialises in. He mainly exports to Russia, Israel,Germany and Holland. The labels, he said, were old ones. Although he confirmed Russo's statement that EDOM stopped working with him on a regular basis three years ago after a joint project involving 400 dunums of land was terminated, he nonetheless listed it as one of the companies he exports through, together with Red Sea Organics, Gilad and Kedem. Clearly proud of his business, he claimed that EDOM UK deals with him through its office in Tel Aviv and does work with him at times when the company needs “help and quality produce'”. He said that some of his produce was exported to Russia through EDOM in December 2009 and January 2010. When confronted with this information, Jimmy Russo admitted that this was the case, but claimed that it was a one-off transaction (he said there was only one export, not two) to “help him (Azoulay) out” and stated that although he does not agree with the apparent mislabelling of EDOM produce, there isn't a case to answer as the produce was destined for countries which are not affected by British DEFRA guidelines.

Like all settlement companies Azoulay's Doron profits from labour exploitation and by 'helping him out' EDOM is complicit in this breach of the law. Azoulay bragged about being “the best employer in the area” and about his workers getting paid “more than [his] father did when he worked at a nuclear power plant for 40 years”. He also claimed that he throws a party every week for the 25 Thai workers who are employed in his packing house and pays the 60-70 Palestinians who work in the fields 100 NIS a day for an eight hour shift. However, this final statement showed Azoulay's total disregard for his obligations under Israeli law, which clearly state that settlement workers are entitled to the Israeli minimum wage, currently just over 160 NIS a day. When Corporate Watch visited Tomer, workers delivering to Azoulay's packing house told us that underage children work in the fields supplying Azoulay, something he denied.

Corporate Watch also had correspondence with EDOM in Israel. Yaron Yarchi of EDOM told us that EDOM did not have a clear policy on trading with “what you call 'occupied territories'”. Yarchi claimed that they “have not had to” procure goods from the settlements, however Yarchi confirmed that goods from Doron in Tomer had been exported to Russia through EDOM. Tellingly, Yarchi declined to answer our general questions on settlement goods and simply said “EDOM doesn't have any growers in the settlements who supply the UK”(emphasis added).

EDOM have assured us that Azoulay has been told to remove the signage. However, Corporate Watch would like to reiterate our call for Valley Grown Salads to completely divest from EDOM UK for several reasons. Firstly, it is becoming more and more obvious that trading with any Israeli company involves direct or indirect support for the settlement economy. Secondly, there are good reasons to divest from all Israeli companies. Last month Corporate Watch wrote the following open letter to Jimmy Russo:

“By continuing to serve as a director of EDOM, a company who, on their own admission, export from the illegal settlements, you are complicit in allowing Israel to operate 'normally', just like any other country, while it continues its crimes against the Palestinians. And its not only about EDOM's dealings with the settlements; EDOM operates within an Israeli society which practices systematic racism against its non-Jewish citizens. Just a few miles from your Sappir distribution centre around the town of Beersheva the Israeli state refuses to give basic services like water and electricity to local bedouins and demolishes the homes of those who refuse to leave areas which the state have refused to "recognise", making way for the expansion of Jewish municipalities. Sappir itself is built on Jewish National Fund Land, which is reserved for Jews only.

To continue to maintain shares in EDOM is to ignore the suffering of those who have lived their entire lives under Israeli apartheid and occupation. The only way to remain ethical in this context is to divest.”

Jimmy Russo, who said he had taken our points on board, thanked us for our letter but declined to comment further.

Many thanks to Who Profits, www.whoprofits.org, for their help in researching this article

For our previous articles about EDOM UK and VGS see:

http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/03/25/uk-company-exporting-from-jordan-valley-settlements/

http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/further-information-about-edom-uk-signs-of-more-mislabelling/

http://corporateoccupation.wordpress.com/2010/04/29/dear-corporation-an-open-letter-to-valley-grown-salads/