As tensions in the West Bank escalated following the abduction and murder of three young Israeli settlers, SodaStream, the controversial Israeli company at the center of a global boycott campaign, fired several of its Palestinian workers over a dispute about Ramadan meals.
The company, which manufactures home carbonation devices, employs both Israelis and Palestinians. Its executives regularly dismiss criticism of the SodaStream plant in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, located in the occupied West Bank, by portraying the company as a sanctuary of coexistence in the turbulent region.
Many have argued that Ma'ale Adumim is an illegal settlement according to international law, under an article in the Geneva Conventions that forbids an occupying authority to transfer its citizens to occupied territory. Israel has countered that the provision does not apply to the West Bank because it is not under the sovereignty of a state.
'Employees found themselves without adequate food after 16 hours of fasting for Ramadan.'
Disrupting the image of harmony that SodaStream has cultivated, reports emerged this week that the company had abruptly dismissed earlier this month all of the Palestinian employees working a night shift at the plant after they complained to management about not being given enough food for iftar — the breaking of the fast meal observed by Muslims during the month of Ramadan, which ends next week.
Citing the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN), an Israel-based workers' advocacy group, local news organizations reported that 60 workers were fired. But a spokesman for the company told VICE News that it “had no choice but to sadly separate” from 40 workers.
According to the advocacy group, workers are prohibited from bringing their own meals to the premises of the company, which observes kosher dietary laws.
“So 60 employees found themselves without adequate food after 16 hours of fasting for Ramadan, at a company, Sodastream, that forbids them to bring food from home for kashrut reasons,” Erez Wagner, a coordinator for the Israeli union that represents the workers, told local reporters.
According to Wagner, workers were sent home that day and told that the issue would be resolved — but not before one of the managers accused them of creating conflict on the day of the burial of three murdered teens — an accusation the workers denied.
The account offered by SodaStream to VICE News differs from that of the workers' representative.
"A group of employees used the Ramadan break-fast meal as a pretext to stir up a violent scene and disrupt production at our factory," a SodaStream spokesman said in a statement that described physical and verbal abuse directed at the managers on site. "SodaStream's catering has always been a source of great pride and satisfaction among our workers and as part of this tradition, on July 2, like on every evening of the Ramadan, the company went out of its way to offer a special festive hot meal for the Muslim employees. The meal was freshly cooked on-premise and included two choices of meat, four choices of sides, a complete salad bar."
"To be clear, the company had no obligation to offer any such meal and indeed several of the employees on this shift brought their own food from home because of their dietary or religious preferences," he went on, contradicting the advocacy group's contention that meals from home were not allowed. He added that 12 employees did not participate in the "unrest," and said that the other employees were let go because of the company's "zero tolerance" policy toward violence.
The workers remember things differently.
“The next day every single one of the night shift workers received a notice that stated the management had decided to dismiss them. The employees were invited to return to the plant to return their employment card and collect their personal belongings, but in the end were met with hostility and refused entry,” Wagner, of WAC-MAAN, said. “SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum proudly presents the plant as an oasis of coexistence between peoples, but the reality is very different.”
SodaStream made headlines earlier this year when its brand ambassador, American actress Scarlett Johansson, resigned from her position as Oxfam global ambassador after coming under fire for her endorsement of the company — an “incompatible” conflict of interest, Oxfam said.
A statement from Johansson at the time noted that she and Oxfam "have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.”
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi
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