SodaStream faces off with Israel over Palestinian permits

Company threatens to halt production if government continues to deny work visas for dozens of staff from West Bank

Employees work at the new SodaStream factory in Israel's Negev Desert, next to the city of Rahat, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP/Dan Balilty)
Employees work at the new SodaStream factory in Israel's Negev Desert, next to the city of Rahat, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015. (AP/Dan Balilty)

Israeli drinks firm SodaStream warned Friday it could suspend production at its main Negev factory if the government does not grant work permits for dozens of its Palestinian staff.

The company, which manufactures a device for making fizzy drinks at home, announced in late 2014 it was closing its plant in a West Bank industrial park, following a boycott campaign that included targeting Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson after she advertised its product.

The plant closed in October 2015, with more than 500 Palestinians made redundant, the company said.

It relocated the factory to the desert, bringing 74 Palestinian workers with it, as well as hiring hundreds of Israeli workers.

But the government has refused to grant the Palestinians work permits beyond the end of this month, the company’s head of global communications, Maayan Nave, said.

Scarlett Johansson in SodaStream's Superbowl ad (screen capture: YouTube)
Scarlett Johansson in SodaStream’s Superbowl ad (screen capture: YouTube)

“We are not willing to let Israeli bureaucracy determine the future of 74 people,” he said, adding many have worked for the company for at least six years.

“We hope that the current government will be able to solve the bureaucracy that now points to the termination of the contracts of our 74 Palestinian workers,” Nave said.

He said the company would consider suspending production at the factory if the government did not meet its demands.

“We are determined to stand by our employees and fight,” he said.

Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said it was trying to help the company as much as possible.

“COGAT has taken many measures to help the factory and provided temporary permits to hundreds of laborers in the past year and a half to enable the transfer (of the factory),” a spokeswoman said.

According to COGAT, 58,000 Palestinians hold permits to work in Israel, with another 27,000 working for Israeli businesses in West Bank settlements and industrial zones.

Nave called for an increase in the number of permits, but COGAT said it would need a ruling from the government.

“The employment of Palestinians in Israel is based on work permits, determined by government decisions,” it said.

SodaStream had revenues of $112.9 million in the final quarter of 2015.

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