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Oxfam reputation at risk over Johansson-SodaStream controversy

Oxfam's reputation is at risk of taking a hit after the charity's ambassador Scarlett Johansson was recently unveiled as brand ambassador for SodaStream, an Israeli company with production facilities in an illegal West Bank settlement. Oxfam is now receiving calls by campaigners urging the charity to take immediate action.

Press coverage of Johansson's new relationship with SodaStream has included many articles covering the boycott of the company for its complicity in Israel's occupation. But while the focus has been to a large extent on Johansson herself, it is Oxfam, who the actress has represented since 2005, that stands the most to lose here.

Oxfam's position is that "Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory pose a grave threat to efforts to achieve a durable and inclusive solution to the conflict, based on international law". The charity has supported the labelling of settlement produce. Furthermore, since "advocacy and campaigning" is considered "an essential part" of their remit, Oxfam has urged the EU to "take urgent action to press the Government of Israel to end the construction of settlements and comply with its responsibilities under international law".

Such positions, however, are inevitably undermined by a relationship with Johansson. Mark Goldring, Oxfam UK chief executive, has reiterated the charity's opposition to "trade from Israeli settlements, in which SodaStream is engaged", and claims that Oxfam is "engaged in a dialogue [with Johansson] on these important issues." There is also now a similarly worded statement on the Oxfam page dealing with Johansson as ambassador.

Oxfam has been here before: with the Kristin Davis controversy and Oxfam Italy cutting ties with Paola Maugeri. Oxfam's ambassadors are meant to boost "the fight against…injustice" around the world "on behalf of" the charity – not tarnish Oxfam's name and undermine its credibility when it advocates to governments and other stakeholders. So should "dialogue" with Johansson go nowhere, will the leading charity say goodbye?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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