Last week MAP hosted a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in association with the New Statesman entitled, ‘New Thinking on Palestine: What Role Can British Policy Play?’ The panel included Phyllis Starkey, MAP Trustee and former Labour MP; Ian Lucas MP, Shadow Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Lisa Nandy MP, Shadow Minister for Children and Families; and Councillor Attalah Said. It was chaired by the Editor of the New Statesman, Jason Cowley.
Lisa Nandy, Shadow Minister for Children and Families said the following:
Over the course of the few days during which she had been in the West Bank, Nandy said, there had been many things that had made her upset and angry on the behalf of Palestinian people “who were being systematically stripped of their dignity”. However, the thing that concerned her most as the Shadow Minister for Children and Families was what was happening to children in Palestine. “Palestinian children,” she said, “only have the opportunity to meet the other side when they are watching their parents being humiliated at checkpoints; when they are walking miles to school because somebody has built a wall between their home and their school; when they are having names called at them by settler communities; when they are watching water being siphoned off from them in the Jordan Valley so that they don’t have enough water to wash in or to drink, while just a few miles away within their actual line of sight they are seeing settler children who are swimming in swimming pools.” This situation, Nandy commented, is creating a sense of hate, hopelessness and despair and the time for action is now.
Focusing her remarks on the role of British companies in helping to perpetuate a system that “is trampling over the very basic rights of Palestinians,” Nandy said she was shocked and appalled when she got to the West Bank to see that there were several British-based multinationals helping to prop up the system.
Singling out G4S, which was in charge of security at the Labour conference, Nandy spoke about the role the company is playing, providing services under contract with Israel to Israeli prisoners in detention facilities, including Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank. As part of that contract they are involved in transferring prisoners to Israel in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as restricting family visiting rights to young people under the age of 18 in violation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nandy stated, was a crucial land mark in recognising how important it is to uphold the rights of the child across the globe. “The truth,” she continued, “is that if you threaten children’s rights anywhere, you threaten children’s rights everywhere.”
Other examples of British based companies included Veolia, which runs waste management companies under contract to local authorities in the UK whilst being involved in the development and running of an illegal tram system across the West Bank, and Eden Springs which siphons water from the Golan Heights and then provides that water for profit to the Westminster and Scottish governments.
Although she has raised these concerns with governments repeatedly over the last couple of years, they have said it is not a matter of public significance, despite the fact that these companies are in receipt of public money and hold significant public contracts.
G4S has said that it will exit from the work that they are doing under contract with Israel at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, however, Nandy said, it is “making a mockery of our commitment to human rights in the UK”. Referring to Professor John Ruggie’s set of principles for business and human rights, she stressed the importance of recognising that the same ethical responsibilities that apply to individuals and to states also apply to businesses. Three things need to happen, she said:
1. The London Stock Exchange cannot continue to be a home to companies involved in perpetrating gross human rights and environmental violations around the world. Companies listed on the London Stock Exchange should be assessed for their environmental, social and human rights impact.
2. Labelling needs to be more clearly defined. Often goods that are labelled as being from Israel are actually from the occupied Palestinian territory.
3. Public contracts should not be awarded to firms that consistently violate human rights.
This, Nandy suggested, is “not only a moral imperative because of our obligation to the Palestinian people or to children, it is a priority because we have to do everything we can to help create a level playing field so that those businesses that are upholding the right standards are encouraged to flourish.” These companies, she continued, “are our public face around the world – in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territory – these companies represent Britain.”