Dear Mr Tropoulos,
We write as academics, members of staff, students, alumni and friends of the University of New South Wales. We are disappointed in UNSW’s plans to open a Max Brenner store on campus. Max Brenner is wholly owned by the Strauss Group – Israel’s second largest food and beverage conglomerate. The Strauss Group has come under intense scrutiny in Australia and worldwide for its support and direct connection to Israel Defence Force (IDF) violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
We expect UNSW, an esteemed and internationally renowned academic institution, to maintain a high standard of ethics by ensuring any of the institutions and organisations with which it affiliates comply with humanitarian law, human rights law and fair trade. We therefore oppose a Max Brenner store on campus, and urge UNSW to consider the Strauss Group’s link to humanitarian and human rights violations and its non-compliance with fair trade, as outlined below, before allowing the deal with Max Brenner to go forward.
1. The Strauss Group’s connection to human rights violations by the Golani and Givati military brigades
The Strauss Group has boasted that, as part of its corporate responsibility, it has "adopted the Golani reconnaissance platoon for over 30 years...”. It has been documented that the Golani Brigade is involved in the murders and human rights abuses of Palestinian civilians in Gaza (2009, 2012), Jenin (2002), and Hebron (ongoing), Egyptian civilians (1966) and Lebanese civilians (1982, 2006). These violations include the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, road blocks in the Palestinian territories, humiliation and intimidation, military checkpoints, house take-overs and incursions, loss of livelihood, and bribery - all of which have been documented by the United Nation Fact-Finding Mission into the Gaza War – the ‘Goldstone Report’, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Christian Peacemaker Teams, Breaking the Silence, and the International Solidarity Movement. Israel's decades-long military occupation has “seriously damaged the fabric of Palestinian society through annexation, illegal settlement, collective punishment and restriction of movement”.
The Strauss Group further mentions in its statement of corporate responsibility that it has “also adopted the Southern Shualei Shimshon troops from the Givati platoon”. The Givati Brigade has a long history of involvement in human rights abuses against Palestinians. The platoon led the ground assault in Israel’s ‘Operation Cast Lead’ during December 2008 and January 2009 in Gaza. Operation Cast Lead resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,400 Palestinian casualties, including 318 children and 444 adult civilians. The Goldstone Report found that the IDF injured approximately 5,300 Palestinian civilians and destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings, leaving 20,000 Palestinian civilians homeless. Furthermore, there is documented evidence that the Givati Brigade “recklessly” used white phosphorous - an incendiary weapon - in densely populated civilian areas during the assault, which is a violation of international humanitarian law - a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Conventions and could amount to a war crime. The Givati Brigade was also involved in ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’ in November 2012 in Gaza, which killed and injured Palestinian civilians and media workers.
2. Max Brenner’s non-compliance with fair trade
In addition, the introduction of Max Brenner on campus conflicts with the university’s growing push for fair trade and ethical business practices. Bodies such as the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) aim to promote trade equality and justice. There is an increasing focus on ensuring that business choices have a positive impact on all aspects of life on a global scale, including human solidarity, working environments and living conditions. Unfortunately, these just principles and objectives are not at the forefront of Max Brenner's corporate social responsibility, whereby Max Brenner does not use fair trade chocolate and coffee. We understand that not all coffee bars on campus are fully fair trade compliant, however, if UNSW wishes to continue to foster and improve its commitment towards an ethical and socially responsible approach, it should refrain from opening Max Brenner on campus.
We ask that you follow the example of universities worldwide who have taken a stand against companies that profit from or support a state and military that violates international law. For example, in late 2011, Chicago’s DePaul University removed Sabra hummus, also owned by the Strauss Group, from campus shelves and replaced it with an ethical alternative. Last year, the University of Toronto, Carleton University, the University of Regina and York University in Canada passed resolutions in support of withdrawing investments with companies connected to Israel’s international human rights law and humanitarian law violations, which included Hewlett Packard, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. The London School of Economics (LSE) cancelled its contract with Eden Springs in 2011, a major water supply company, because of the company’s business dealings in the illegally occupied Golan Heights. LSE joined other UK universities in the United Kingdom, including Edinburgh and Strathclyde, in the boycott of apartheid. Sussex University and the University of London Union, Europe’s largest student union, heeded the call to withdraw support for Israeli goods.
Instead of voting for the Strauss Group and the Golani and Givati brigades, we prefer to vote for a local, Australian business that does not fund and support a military, responsible for severe breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law against the indigenous Palestinian population.
Full open letter at this link: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iSnq940NmiSXHIgqwcEg4L1gBOL-cy2llBSBT-zdWU0/edit