Unilever to sell West Bank plant

By Michal Levertov, December 4, 2008

The multinational company, Unilever, is to sell its share in a food factory located in a West Bank settlement.

The Anglo-Dutch company, the manufacturer of 400 brands in 150 countries, intends to sell its 51 per cent stake in the Beigel & Beigel pretzel factory, based in the Barkan industrial zone near the settlement of Ariel.

In October, Swedish company Assa Abloy decided to move a locksmith plant from the same industrial zone following NGO reports warning that companies may be subject to law suits over the violation of international law if their factories are located in such areas.

The Unilever announcement was made one day before the release of a report by a Dutch human rights group, United Civilians for Peace, alleging that the land on which the industrial zone is located was confiscated in 1981 from Palestinian villages by an Israeli military order, and that its current use as an industrial zone is therefore a violation of international law.

However, a Unilever Israel spokesman said that the company was simply rationalising and that “the decision has been reached to divest of its interests in the bakery business”.

He added: “The decision to seek a buyer for our stake in Beigel & Beigel has nothing to do with any arguments by lobby groups or any other interest group.

“The internal discussion in Unilever on this subject began many years ago and certainly well before any contact by any lobby group was made.”
About 120 Israeli businesses operate in the Barkan industrial zone. Four years ago, the Israeli company Barkan Wineries began moving its operations to Kibbutz Hulda, in southern Israel.

The move happened after the Israeli soft drinks concern Tempo, who holds ownership of the wineries, entered into a partnership with the Dutch beer company Heineken.

Britain has also been pressing the European Union to be stricter about labelling imports produced in settlements.

Last updated: 12:30pm, December 9 2008