UNHRC BDS Blacklist Update: During Global Economic Crisis, NGOs Seek to Harm Companies
After multiple delays, on February 12, 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published its “Database of all business enterprises” that it claims addresses “human rights concerns” in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. This UN blacklist, ordered by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in response to an intense non-governmental organization (NGO)-led campaign, is meant to bolster BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). The unique treatment of Israel in this exercise, as with many other NGO and HRC initiatives, violates the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of antisemitism.
NGO Monitor has systematically documented the fundamental problems with the blacklist, including in correspondence with the High Commissioner. For example, see our 2017 submission to the Human Rights Council on UNHRC Blacklist, NGO Monitor Legal Advisor Anne Herzberg’s letter to OHCHR High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet Regarding the BDS Blacklist (January 2020), and our analysis of the BDS Blacklist.
Since the publication of the blacklist, and in spite of the current global COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic turmoil, NGO activists have been targeting companies with using the list.
NGO Monitor will update this report as additional campaigns are launched.
Review of Norwegian Government Pension Investments
In April 2019, the Norwegian government established a committee to review its investments and their adherence to ethical guidelines. In the past, the government had established its ethical guidelines around the “Exercise of ownership rights to achieve good long-term financial returns based on the UN Global Compact and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; Negative screening of companies which themselves or through entities they control, produce weapons that violate fundamental humanitarian principles through their normal use” and the “Exclusion of companies where there is an unacceptable risk that one will through ownership contribute to serious or systematic violations of ethical norms relating to, inter alia, human rights and environmental damage.”
The Commission’s mandate is to assess “whether there is a need for amending the Guidelines for Observation and Exclusion from the Government Pension Fund Global” given that “International conventions and standards have evolved in recent years.” A final report is due by June 2020.
A number of NGOs provided submissions to the Commission. Despite the global focus of the Commission’s mandate, NGO submissions highlight the Arab-Israeli conflict and argue for divestment from firms doing business with Israel. One example is a report by Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), relying on information published by pro-BDS groups Who Profits and Amnesty International.
UNI Global also presented a submission to the Commission that utilizes the UN BDS blacklist to argue for Norwegian divestment from companies on the UN list, and noting:
“Specifically, we write in connection to the rules which govern investment into the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to express support for the submission from Norwegian’s People Aid and the Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees on that topic.
Although we understand that we may be outside of the deadline for consultation, we submit our comments in light of the recent publication of the UN Human Rights Office database of businesses involved in the Occupied Palestinian Territories…” (emphasis added).
UNI specifically recommends that “In light of the UN’s publication of a database of 112 businesses identified as involved in activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that ‘raised particular human rights concerns’ in relation to the illegal settlements, the Fund should undertake the necessary due diligence to review its investments in these firms against the ethical guidelines. There is a clear case for the Fund to consider exclusion of companies on this list if they continue involvement with the settlements, as the list reflects the findings of the relevant international authority following an extensive fact-finding process (sic)” (emphases added).
Norwegian Trade Unions
The largest trade union in Norway, Norwegian Tenemanslag (NTL), is pressuring universities to not partner with Egencia, a travel company owned by Expedia. As noted in a March 22 article published in Khrono (“Require the state and universities to drop travel operator”), “Egencia’s parent company Expedia is on a UN list of 112 companies operating in occupied Palestinian territory. The list was presented by the UN Human Rights Office on February 12.”
NTL states that an agreement with Egencia is “unacceptable.”
In 2014, NTL adopted “a declaration requiring international boycotts of trade and investment” taking place in the [Israeli] occupied area.” In 2016, NTL promoted an academic boycott of Israel.
Spanish NGO Mundabat promotes BDS and claims that “from the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 (Nakba) and the occupation of 1967 (Naksa), the Palestinian people live under a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”
Donors included the EU, Spain (Agency for International Development Cooperation –AECID), and Basque Agency for Development Cooperation (AVCD).
In February 2020, Mundubat promoted BDS-Spain’s campaign, “CAF, get off the apartheid train,” calling on the Basque railway company CAF to withdraw from their work on the “rail network linking illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, known as the Jerusalem Light Rail (JTA).” The campaign explains CAF is working with the Israeli company Shapir on the tram project, and that Shapir is “included in the list of companies that are complicit in the illegal settlements by the UN” (emphasis added).
Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP)
HOOP, a Harvard campus student group sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace Boston and the Harvard Graduate Student Union, published an article in the Harvard Crimson calling on “Harvard to divest from companies tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” The article, titled “Harvard Invests Almost $200 Million in Companies UN List Tied to Israeli Settlements in Palestine,” notes that “The list from the U.N. includes 112 business entities, 20 of which — including Booking Holdings, Expedia, General Mills, and Motorola — fall within the ETFs Harvard is invested in.”
The article quotes student activists from various groups, such as “Hind Awwad — a member of the steering committee of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel” who “wrote in a statement that the organization is ‘troubled’ by Harvard’s investments in Booking” and that “We’re particularly troubled that Harvard is investing in Booking Holdings, owner of Booking.com, a company that profits from stolen Palestinian homes and lands…We urge the administration to divest from this, and all, companies on the UN List.”
Amnesty International UK
Amnesty International UK’s campaign “TELL TRIPADVISOR TO CHECK OUT OF STOLEN LAND” claims that “Thousands of Palestinians have had their homes destroyed, their land stolen and their rights to live, work and move freely denied…online tourism giants, like TripAdvisor, are profiting from these human rights violations.” The campaign calls on TripAdvisor to delist any companies, tourism sites, or holy sites that are located beyond the 1949 Armistice lines.
Following the publication of the UN’s BDS blacklist, Amnesty UK reintroduced and revised its campaign, utilizing the blacklist as rationale for attacking TripAdvisor. Amnesty UK states, “The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has now released a report on companies with specific links to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Trip Advisor is amongst the hundred or so exposed. Several other digital tourism companies have also been named, including several digital tourism companies including Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com…Tell TripAdvisor and the rest to abide by their international obligations and stop profiting from human suffering – stop advertising holidays in Israeli settlements.”
The Platform of French NGOs for Palestine (PFP)
In its Spring 2020 Quarterly Report, PFP features an article “Three French companies on the new database published by the UN.” The article notes that Egis, Egis Rail, and Altrom are all featured on the list and continue to do business in Israel, despite NGO campaigning. PFP praises the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for publishing the list “in spite of Israeli and American pressure.”
PFP highlights that French banking and insurance companies are missing from the list but notes the inclusion of tourism businesses such as Booking, Expedia, Airbnb, and Opodo.
In the article, President of PFP François Leroux states, “We encourage all French companies – whether or not registered in the UN database – to withdraw from projects related to Israeli colonization and / or not to enter into a new economic relationship with any infrastructure in the settlements.”
Joint NGO Letter to Bachelet Pushing for Stronger UN Action
On March 17, 2020, Al-Haq published a letter signed by a number of Palestinian and international BDS organizations, “Welcoming the publication of the United Nations Database of Businesses Engaged in Activities Related to Israeli Settlements.” The letter praises the High Commissioner for publishing the list and states that the BDS groups “look forward to continuing to work with the OHCHR, with a view toward ending corporate impunity for profiting from grave breaches of international law.”
Organizations that signed the letter include leading pro-BDS NGOs (such as Palestinian NGO Network [PNGO], Al Mezan, BADIL, the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine) and groups that are also linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group (Addameer, Palestinian Center for Human Rights [PCHR], and Union of Agricultural Work Committees [UAWC]).