Info Service on WTO and Trade Issues (Feb18/09)
5 February 2018
Third World Network
OHCHR reviews some 206 companies linked to Israeli settlements
Published in SUNS #8613 dated 2 February 2018
Geneva, 1 Feb (Kanaga Raja) - The Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has identified 206 business
enterprises that were involved in specific activities related to Israeli
settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, and is now in the
process of reviewing the nature of their activities.
In a report released on 31 January 2018, the OHCHR highlighted its
work on producing a database of business enterprises engaged in certain
specified activities in the occupied Palestinian territory that are
linked to Israeli settlements.
The OHCHR work is in pursuant of a mandate given to it by the Human
In its report (A/HRC/37/39), the UN Human Rights Office said it had
reviewed a total of 321 companies by the end of 2017, of which it
had identified 206 enterprises as engaged in specific activities in
Of the 206 screened companies, OHCHR said, 143 were domiciled in Israel
or Israeli settlements, with the second largest group being based
in the United States (22).
This is followed by Germany with 7, Netherlands with 5 and France
with 4. The rest are domiciled in 16 other countries, mostly European.
The Human Rights Office however did not disclose the names of these
companies, but said it was in touch with all 206 companies, and subject
to its determinations, it expects to release the names of those companies
engaged in the listed activities.
"I am satisfied, given the resource constraints and the unprecedented
nature of such a request from the UN Human Rights Council, that significant
progress has been made in the Office's efforts to operationalize the
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights," UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a UN news release.
"I urge all sides to avoid misrepresenting the contents of this
report, which has been produced in good faith on the basis of the
mandate laid down by the Human Rights Council. We hope that our work
in consolidating and communicating the information in the database
will assist States and businesses in complying with their obligations
and responsibilities under international law," Zeid added.
[The report, and its stated intention to make public the names of
the enterprises after the OHCHR has completed its review and assessment,
appears to have rattled Israel, and was denounced by the Israeli ambassador
to the UN, as also by the US Ambassador to the UN, Ms. Nikki R. Haley.
Though the OHCHR has undertaken this work in pursuance of a mandate
to it by the Human Rights Council, Ms Haley, according to the New
York Times, claimed the "whole issue is outside the bounds of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights office's mandate and is a waste
of time and resources." SUNS]
The report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
was submitted to the Human Rights Council pursuant to resolution 31/36,
adopted by the Council on 24 March 2016, on Israeli settlements in
the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and
in the occupied Syrian Golan.
In paragraph 17 of resolution 31/36, the Council requested the United
Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce a database of
all business enterprises engaged in certain specified activities related
to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,
in consultation with the Working Group on the issue of human rights
and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and
to transmit the data therein in the form of a report to the Council
at its thirty-fourth session.
The Council also requested that the database be updated annually.
On 13 February 2017, the Human Rights Council, pursuant to the recommendation
of the High Commissioner, decided to defer consideration of the report
to allow for additional time to consider the inputs received in the
context of an open call for submissions, and to ensure a fair process
for concerned stakeholders.
The report is now before the thirty-seventh session of the Human Rights
Council, which is being held from 26 February to 23 March 2018.
According to the report, Human Rights Council resolution 31/36 establishing
the database follows up the report of the independent international
fact-finding mission to investigate the implications of the Israeli
settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural
rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian
Territory, including East Jerusalem (A/HRC/22/63).
In resolution 31/36, the Council defined the parameters of activities
to be reflected in the database by reference to the list compiled
by the mission in its report, which comprised:
(a) The supply of equipment and materials facilitating the construction
and the expansion of settlements and the wall, and associated infrastructures;
(b) The supply of surveillance and identification equipment for settlements,
the wall and checkpoints directly linked with settlements;
(c) The supply of equipment for the demolition of housing and property,
the destruction of agricultural farms, greenhouses, olive groves and
(d) The supply of security services, equipment and materials to enterprises
operating in settlements;
(e) The provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance
and existence of settlements, including transport;
(f) Banking and financial operations helping to develop, expand or
maintain settlements and their activities, including loans for housing
and the development of businesses;
(g) The use of natural resources, in particular water and land, for
(h) Pollution, and the dumping of waste in or its transfer to Palestinian
(i) Use of benefits and re-investments of enterprises owned totally
or partially by settlers for developing, expanding and maintaining
(j) Captivity of the Palestinian financial and economic markets, as
well as practices that disadvantage Palestinian enterprises, including
through restrictions on movement, administrative and legal constraints.
OHCHR noted that six of the 10 listed activities - (a), (b), (d),
(e), (f) and (i) - refer to activities that are explicitly linked
to the settlements, while the remaining four - (c), (g), (h) and (j)
- refer to activities that may not be geographically connected to
settlements, but form part of the processes that "enable and
support the establishment, expansion and maintenance of Israeli residential
communities beyond the Green Line".
For example, it noted that a company that is operating a quarry on
Israeli-confiscated land in the West Bank will be considered to fall
under category (g) regardless of whether it is located in or connected
to a defined settlement community.
Its presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the use of
its natural resources for business purposes is sufficient to fall
within the scope of the database, as required by resolution 31/36.
According to the report, the parameters of the database encompass
local and international companies, whether domiciled in Israel, the
Occupied Palestinian Territory or abroad, carrying out listed activities
in relation to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Companies engaged in activities related to the occupied Syrian Golan
do not fall within the mandate.
The OHCHR underlined that the mandate for producing the database established
by resolution 31/36 is strictly confined to the 10 activities listed
The database does not cover all corporate activity related to settlements,
nor does it extend to all corporate activity in the Occupied Palestinian
Territory that may raise human rights concerns.
In addition, while there may be other types of entities engaged in
significant corporate activity related to the settlements, only those
entities established as business enterprises are considered; non-governmental
organizations, charities, sports associations or federations, and
other entities are therefore excluded from consideration.
The work conducted by OHCHR in producing the database is in full compliance
with resolution 31/36 and does not purport to constitute a judicial
process of any kind. OHCHR is mandated to make factual determinations
of whether business enterprises are engaged in the listed activities,
OHCHR said that it examined information relevant to the mandate that
was available to it, initially gathered through the following methods:
* A desk review of publicly-available information, including reports
by the United Nations, civil society organizations (Israeli, Palestinian
and international), media reports, academic writings.
* Information received in response to notes verbales sent on 11 October
2016 to all Member States inviting them to provide inputs relevant
to the implementation of resolution 31/36.
* Information received in response to an open invitation to all interested
persons, entities and organizations to submit relevant information
Of the 307 companies reviewed, 115 companies were excluded on the
basis of the criteria set out (in paragraph 13 of its report).
The 192 remaining companies formed the initial group of "screened"
companies that were subject to further research and consideration.
The majority of these 192 companies are domiciled in Israel or the
settlements, followed by the United States of America, Germany, the
Netherlands and France.
The report said that further research by OHCHR revealed relevant business
entities, such as parent companies or subsidiaries, that were not
initially named in the submissions received in notes verbales from
Member States or through the open call for submissions from interested
This necessitated adding 14 companies to the initial list of 192 screened
companies, resulting in a total of 206 companies reviewed at the time
OHCHR said it was given limited resources to carry out the mandate
within the anticipated time frame, which required it to calibrate
its research and engagement with companies accordingly.
Not all companies about which OHCHR had received information could
be contacted by the time of submission of the present report.
At the time of writing, OHCHR said it had contacted 64 of the 206
companies involved in 33 different situations concerning the listed
According to the report, of the 206 screened companies, 143 were based
in Israel or Israeli settlements and 22 were based in the United States.
This was followed by Germany with 7, Netherlands with 5 and France
with 4. The rest were divided among 16 other countries, mostly European.
In the letters addressed to the companies concerned, OHCHR said it
informed them of the listed activities that they appeared to be engaged
in (based on the totality of information reviewed by OHCHR), and set
out the basic facts of the companies' involvement in the listed activity
Companies were requested to respond in writing within 60 days for
an initial response, providing any clarification or update of the
Responses from companies included those that (a) objected to the mandate
of OHCHR and declined to provide a substantive response to the information
presented; (b) rejected the information presented and objected to
being included in the database; (c) confirmed the information presented
concerning their involvement in one or more of the listed activities,
and provided explanations; (d) provided updated information that indicated
they were no longer engaged in one or more of the listed activities;
and (e) provided additional information and clarifications that will
require further discussion and analysis before a determination can
OHCHR said that more resources are required for it to continue its
dialogue with and issue communications to relevant business enterprises,
adding information to the database and updating existing information
in the database as required by resolution 31/36.
Once OHCHR has been in contact with all 206 companies, and subject
to determinations of their responses and non-responses, OHCHR expects
to provide the names of the companies engaged in listed activities
in a future update.
Before the determinations on the companies are made public, OHCHR
will notify the companies concerned, it said.
INVOLVEMENT OF BUSINESS IN SETTLEMENT ACTIVITY
The report noted that the extensive human rights impact of settlements
on the human rights of Palestinians has been well documented in successive
reports of the High Commissioner, the UN Secretary-General and the
The reports detailed how the settlements are extensively altering
the demographic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory
and fundamentally threatening the Palestinians' right to self-determination.
"The violations of human rights associated with the settlements
are pervasive and devastating, reaching every facet of Palestinian
life," said OHCHR.
Owing to settlement development and infrastructure, Palestinians suffer
from restrictions on freedom of religion, movement and education;
their rights to land and water; access to livelihoods and their right
to an adequate standard of living; their rights to family life; and
many other fundamental human rights.
OHCHR noted that, considering the weight of the international legal
consensus concerning the illegal nature of the settlements themselves,
and the systemic and pervasive nature of the negative human rights
impact caused by them, "it is difficult to imagine a scenario
in which a company could engage in listed activities in a way that
is consistent with the Guiding Principles [on Business and Human Rights]
and international law."
Businesses play a central role in furthering the establishment, maintenance
and expansion of Israeli settlements.
They are involved in constructing and financing settlement homes and
supporting infrastructure, providing services to the settlements,
and operating out of them, said OHCHR.
In doing so, they are contributing to Israel's confiscation of land,
facilitate the transfer of its population into the Occupied Palestinian
Territory, and are involved in the exploitation of Palestine's natural
The Government of Israel actively encourages economic development
of and for the settlements through the Israeli and international private
sector by creating an attractive financial business market, by providing
key financial incentives to companies to operate in the settlements.
Ninety settlements have been designated as "national priority
areas", which allows businesses operating within them to benefit
from reductions in the price of land, grants for the development of
infrastructure, and preferential tax treatment.
Businesses in settlements can also take advantage of functional immunity
from labour law with respect to the treatment of Palestinian workers.
Furthermore, Israeli authorities use their permit and licensing regime
to encourage international and Israeli business engagement with the
Permits and licenses are readily provided to businesses operating
in or servicing settlements, but are rarely granted to companies engaged
in providing similar services to Palestinians.
According to the report, domestic laws and regulations in Israel also
play a role in inducing businesses to serve individuals in the settlements.
The Consumer Protection Law (1981) was amended in 2017 in response
to alleged discrimination against consumers living in settlements.
The revised law makes it mandatory for businesses to state clearly
before any transaction is finalized whether they are not willing or
able to provide services to settlements.
OHCHR noted that businesses play a key role in facilitating the overall
settlement enterprise, contributing to Israel's confiscation of land
and the transfer of its population through commercial development.
Some are directly involved in the confiscation of land by carrying
out demolitions that make way for settlement residential communities
or associated infrastructure, or by financing or executing settlement
Others provide services that ensure the sustainability of residential
settlement communities, such as transport services that connect the
settlements to Israel proper, tourism activities that contribute to
the profitability of the settlements, and telecommunication services.
Those that are located in the settlements help to perpetuate their
existence through the payment of taxes to settlement regional councils
and Israeli authorities and the provision of jobs to settlers, and
by occupying confiscated land.
According to OHCHR, the involvement of businesses in the settlements
extends across all main industries and sectors, including:
* The banking industry, which helps to finance construction and infrastructure
projects in settlements, provide loans and financial services to settlement
councils, and provide mortgage loans to home buyers;
* The tourism industry, including tour companies, online accommodation
and travel booking sites, and rental car companies, all of which help
to make the settlements profitable and sustainable;
* The private security industry, which includes companies involved
in providing security for companies or residences in settlements,
as well as those involved in the checkpoints throughout the West Bank,
including East Jerusalem;
* The technology industry, which provides surveillance and identification
equipment for use in the settlements, the wall and checkpoints;
* The construction and demolition industries, including heavy machinery
suppliers, which help to facilitate and entrench Israel's confiscation
of Palestinian land for settlements and associated infrastructure;
* The real estate industry, including companies involved in marketing,
renting and selling properties in settlements, which helps settlements
to function as viable housing markets, enabling the transfer of Israel's
* The extractive industry, including mining and quarrying, which contribute
financially to the sustainability of settlements through the payment
of fees to settlement municipalities and the Israeli Civil Administration;
* The telecommunications industry, which includes mobile networks
and Internet providers servicing settlements;
* The agricultural industry, which includes companies involved in
crop and livestock production, the wine industry and export companies;
* The transportation industry;
* The manufacturing industry, which includes companies that use raw
materials from occupied territory; and
In addition to the financial benefits provided by the Israeli authorities
for operating in the settlements, businesses engaged in certain sectors
are able to take advantage of captive Palestinian markets for Israeli
According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
(UNCTAD), the Occupied Palestinian Territory operates as a captive
market for Israeli exports due to the imbalanced customs arrangements
enshrined in the Paris Protocol on Economic Relations and restrictions
on movement and other obstacles to trade.
With regard to the economic consequences of situations of occupation,
UNCTAD had noted that they always involved the exploitation, impoverishment,
marginalization, displacement and appropriation of resources of the
occupied indigenous people.
Such acts often deprived the people under colonial rule of the internationally
recognized human right to development by confiscating their national
resources, preventing them from accessing and utilizing those resources,
depriving them of the ability to produce and thus forcing them to
consume products produced by the occupier.
RESPONSES OF BUSINESS ENTERPRISES
According to the report, a major argument used by companies to explain
their involvement in listed activities is that they provide jobs to
Palestinian families and help to support the Palestinian economy.
OHCHR observed that this argument does not recognize that the presence
of the settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which is
unlawful, serves to depress the Palestinian economy and to reduce
opportunities for Palestinian businesses to thrive.
The depressed Palestinian economy has had a direct effect on the job
market in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
According to UNCTAD, Israel's full control over Area C, which accounts
for over 60 per cent of the area of the West Bank, has contributed
to a "permanent unemployment crisis" in the Occupied Palestinian
Territory that forces thousands of unemployed Palestinians to seek
employment in Israel and in settlements in low-skill, low-wage manual
OHCHR noted that the employment of Palestinians, even on favourable
terms, does not exempt businesses of their responsibilities under
the Guiding Principles concerning their overall engagement in or with
The Guiding Principles make clear that, while business enterprises
may undertake certain commitments or activities to support and promote
human rights, these "do not offset a failure to respect human
rights throughout their operations."
Another argument used by some business enterprises to explain their
involvement in listed activities was that they did not take a political
position in the conflict between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian
Territory, nor did they actively support Israel's occupation of Palestine.
OHCHR recalled, however, that the political position of business enterprises
is not a relevant consideration in determining whether their actions
are consistent with the Guiding Principles or whether their business
activities fall within the ambit of Human Rights Council resolution
Some companies indicated that they had no knowledge or control over
the actions of other entities with which they had business relationships,
such as distributors, partners or other entities in their value chains,
and therefore they should not be held responsible for any harm caused
by those entities.
According to the Guiding Principles, said OHCHR, the responsibility
of businesses to respect human rights extends to their business relationships.
Guiding Principle 13 states that businesses are responsible for preventing
or mitigating adverse human rights impacts directly linked to their
operations, products or services through their business relationships,
even if they have not contributed to them; this includes impacts caused
by both actions and omissions.
The responsibility to conduct due diligence - and in the occupied
territory this involves enhanced due diligence - entails taking active
steps to identify and assess any actual or potential adverse human
rights impacts made as a result of business relationships, said OHCHR.