Human Rights Watch: businesses have a responsibility to cease doing business in or with Israeli settlements


In a recent report by Human Rights Watch in which they addressed the illegal Israeli settlement activity and its business dimensions they wrote:

“Ongoing illegal Israeli settlement activity highlights the urgency of the publication of a United Nations database of businesses that have enabled or profited from settlements.

The database will publicly identify businesses that contribute to rights abuses by operating in or with settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In so doing, it will build pressure on businesses to stop doing business in and with settlements in order to meet their human rights responsibilities and for countries to respond to the Security Council’s call in its Resolution 2334 to distinguish between Israeli territory and settlements in their dealings. In the year since the resolution passed with a 14-0 vote and a US abstention, Israeli authorities have accelerated settlement plans, passed a law legalizing the confiscation of private Palestinian land, and declared their intent to maintain settlements forever.

“Israel’s brazen disregard of the 2016 Security Council resolution, passed without opposition, reaffirming the illegality of settlements makes it all the more urgent for corporations to avoid entanglement in rights abuses inherent in settlement activity,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. “The database can contribute toward establishing an authoritative list of corporations currently engaged in such activity.”

Settlements violate the laws of occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into the territory it occupies and from transferring or displacing the population of an occupied territory within or outside the territory. Settlements also contribute to Israel’s two-tiered discriminatory system in the occupied West Bank, restricting and stunting Palestinian development while subsidizing and supporting Israeli settlements built on land unlawfully seized from Palestinians.

Companies have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) to conduct due diligence and mitigate any harmful human rights impact of their activities. Business activity in settlements, by making it possible for Israel to build and sustain the settlements, contributes to serious violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Because abuses are inherent to the settlement enterprise, businesses do not have the ability to alleviate or mitigate them. Merely doing business with the settlements amounts to complicity in them.

Therefore, businesses have a responsibility to cease doing business in or with Israeli settlements, Human Rights Watch said. Prohibited conduct would include locating or carrying out activities inside settlements; financing, administering, or otherwise supporting settlements or settlement-related activities and infrastructure; and contracting to purchase settlement-manufactured goods or produce.

In November 2016, Human Rights Watch wrote to the high commissioner’s office with recommendations for the kinds of business activities and institutions to be included in the database. Earlier in November, the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and a coalition of other groups working on corporate social responsibility wrote to the high commissioner’s office calling for “prompt release of the database.”

“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources,” Whitson said. “The database will build pressure on businesses to cease carrying out these activities and comply with their human rights responsibilities.””


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