Apr 152016


The Co-operative Group

The Co-operative Group’s elections to its Members’ Council were duly held and I was elected to the Members Council. As many readers will know, the Co-op adopted a policy of boycotting suppliers that have any dealings with any Israeli business operating beyond the “Green Line”. This is despite the fact that a similar boycott is supposed to be applied to any “illegal occupation” yet the only “occupation” mentioned other than Israel is the Moroccan “occupation” of Western Sahara. Since Western Saharan products are labelled “Produce of Morocco” it is impossible to tell whether the produce comes from Morocco. The boycott is not applied to other “occupations” which the United Nations deems to be illegal, such as Northern Cyprus, which exports lots of oranges that are also on sale in the Coop.

A brief history of the Cooperative Movement

The Co-operative movement that became a sister party to the Labour Party began in 1844 when a group of men in Rochdale decided that the local shops were charging too much for their goods and decided to set up a co-operative shop. From there, the movement mushroomed until it owned a network of shops throughout the United Kingdom and even department stores, as well as farms, pharmacies and funeral services, to say nothing of the Co-operative Bank, at one time its most lucrative enterprise.

In 2013, a scandal hit the Co-operative Bank when it was discovered that there was a massive shortfall in its funds, apparently the fault of the Rev. Paul Flowers, then chairman. This was partly due to embezzlement and partly due to the unwise decision to take over the Britannia Building Society that had a host of bad debts. The Co-operative Wholesale Society suffered a massive financial blow, that resulted in an entire reorganisation, even its renaming as the Co-operative Movement. Profitable parts of the business had to be sold especially its pharmacies (which never boycotted Israeli pharmaceuticals otherwise their shelves would have been empty!), farms and most of the Bank (the Co-operative Society still owns 20%).

The Co-operative Movement has gradually recovered thanks to excellent new management. It has now adopted a policy of opening mini-supermarkets in every postcode in the United Kingdom, backed by a massive advertising campaign, so the Co-op should be a familiar sight to every shopper. The strategy is to open shops in profitable (wealthier) areas and some of the less productive shops are still being sold off to rival minimarket chains. There are a few larger stores however, such as the store recently opened on Crouch End Broadway in London, that rival the big supermarkets in the facilities they offer, such a deli counter, fresh meat and lots of shelf space.

The Coop also continues to sell its own brands, such as the very popular “99” tea, and its delicious dairy products such as cottage cheese and reduced-fat crême fraîche.

The boycotters

A small clique of people, who are also members of the Cooperative Party (not the Cooperative Movement, although affiliated to it)who continue to advocate a boycott of Israeli fresh produce of all kinds, on the excuse that it *might* come from the settlements.The justification they put forward is that “Since 2009, The Co-operative Group has operated a Human Rights and Trade Policy, which establishes the exceptional circumstances under which we will withdraw all trade from a particular state, area or settlement. One such circumstance is where there is a broad international consensus that the status of a settlement is illegal. There are only two examples of such illegal areas: the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and the Moroccan settlements in Western Sahara”.

In practice, this means that the boycott is applied to the four major Israeli exporters of agricultural produce including Agrexco and Mahedrin. These Israeli companies export produce from all over the land and do not discriminate between farms in Israel post-1948 or Israel post-1967 or Judaea and Samaria, nor do they discriminate between Jewish and Arab farmers, both inside and outside Israel proper. The Co-op continues to refer to “illegal settlements” as if these and the Western Sahara (included “for balance” no doubt, but see above) were the only disputed territories in the world! And even in relation to Western Sahara, the Co-op does not in fact boycott suppliers that have dealings with the Moroccan “settlements” – in reality the only target of this policy is Israel.

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