British government guidelines on settlement produce a step in the right direction
The UK government has called for clearer labelling of goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The recommendation to UK supermarkets by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) seeks to provide consumers with all the information needed in order to allow them to make a more informed choice.
A Defra report published Thursday, December 10th 2009, states its recent recommendations were due to an increase in requests from consumers, businesses and NGOs for 'greater clarity' in goods produced and packed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Currently, all goods produced in the OPT are labelled 'Produce of the West Bank', but Defra's 'voluntary guidelines' suggests that traders and retailers 'may wish to indicate' and distinguish between 'Israeli settlement produce' or 'Palestinian produce'.
The report goes a step further and suggests that traders would be 'committing an offence' if they continue to mislead their consumers in labelling OPT produce as 'Produce of Israel' as the area does not fall within its internationally recognised borders.
The government's move increases pressure on Israel on its settlement policy, with a foreign office spokesperson commenting in the Guardian:
'We believe consumers should be able to choose for themselves what produce they buy. We have been very clear both in public and in private that settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace.'
The government's move has been welcomed by a variety of organisations who have campaigned for more clarity in labelling as 'step in the right direction', many have suggested that the government should go further in ensuring UK supermarkets take on these guidelines. In a comment to the Guardian, Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive stated that continuous trade with these illegal settlements only worked to legitimise the illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and further undermine the viability of a sovereign Palestinian state, creating poverty for many Palestinians.
Welcoming the government's guidelines, Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PCS) suggests 'the government must seek prosecutions of companies which smuggle settlement goods in under false labels'. According to the PSC, consumers do not want to 'feel complicit in Israel's occupation by buying stolen goods'.
The Middle East Monitor (MEMO) welcomes Defra's 'long over-due' recommendation and notes that it is a testimony of what can be achieved when 'civil society takes an active role in upholding the rule of law.'