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Human Rights or Dollar Signs?

As Coca-Cola is revealed as one of Oxfam's major donors, what really motivated NGO's attack on Israeli soda company SodaStream?
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 2/2/2014, 12:44 PM

Goodbye Oxfam: Scarlett Johansonn
Goodbye Oxfam: Scarlett Johansonn
Reuters

The Israeli company SodaStream has come under fire in recent weeks over the fact that it has a factory in Maale Adumim, a Jerusalem suburb that lies east of the 1949 armistice line.

The controversy hit a new high last week with the Oxfam charity’s criticism of actress Scarlett Johansson, who has signed on as a spokeswoman for SodaStream. Johansson has said she will stick with her commitment to SodaStream – and has stepped down as an ambassador for Oxfam in protest of its anti-Israel stance.

Oxfam, which only recently signed Johansson as its first "global brand ambassador, had couched its opposition to her role in promoting SodaStream in humanitarian and legal terms, saying it opposes "all trade" from “Israeli settlements”, which it claims are illegal and deny the rights of Palestinian Arabs. This, despite the fact that SodaStream's Maalei Adumim factory employs both Jews and Arabs alike, and on equal terms.

But now reports are surfacing which suggest a slightly less altruistic motivation, linking Oxfam to one of SodaStream’s major competitors: the Coca-Cola company. Notably, Oxfam has also recently criticized one of Coca-Cola’s other top competitors, the PepsiCo company.

Coca-Cola donated $2.5 million to Oxfam in 2008-2010, and gave another $400,000 toward a research project aimed at investigating Coca-Cola’s impact on Zambia and El Salvador.

The company’s donations to Oxfam sparked criticism at the time from anti-obesity campaigners, who noted that Coca-Cola had begun donating to several organizations involved in promoting health and fighting poverty precisely as it came under criticism for pushing unhealthy drinks in developing countries.

In November 2013 Oxfam issued a condemnation of the PepsiCo Company over allegations that its suppliers had forced small farmers off their land.

“The pressure is only increasing on PepsiCo to address the realities of its supply chain… Coca-Cola has already identified these risks and made promises to address them. The question investors should ask is: why is PepsiCo so far behind?” campaign manager Judy Beals stated.

Oxfam suggested that its supporters sign a letter to Pepsi stating in part, “Coke, the world's biggest sugar purchaser, has committed to a zero tolerance policy on land grabs throughout its supply chain. There's no reason why you can't follow their lead.”

Coca-Cola has a factory in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak which employs roughly 450 workers.

Oxfam’s recent criticism of SodaStream stems from the organization’s long-term approach to land issues in Judea and Samaria (Shomron) – regions which were under Jordanian control from 1948 to 1967, then came under Israeli control following the 1967 Six Day War. The regions in question are now home to over 600,000 Israeli Jews; estimates as to the Palestinian Arab population range wildly, from 1.5 million to 2.3 million.

Oxfam backs the Palestinian Authority (PA) position, which views all of Judea and Samaria as rightfully Arab land. The organization has previously been criticized in Israel for blatantly ignoring Israeli law in the region.

The NGO has already felt a backlash following its singling out of SodaStream; last week, a senior Canadian Minister said he would be boycotting Oxfam and buying SodaStream in response to what he said was the charity's "anti-Israel obsession".

Appearing on Canadian Sun News last week, Kenney quipped "I've given money to Oxfam in the past because I thought they were there to help poor people, not to marginalize Israelis and make Palestinians unemployed."