JCB challenged over use of tractors to destroy Palestinian villages

LONDON: British heavy machinery firm JCB’s sale of equipment used in the demolition of Palestinian villages in the Israeli-occupied West Bank may have breached Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) guidelines on human rights, a UK government body has found.

The findings are a result of a claim launched by the NGO Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) that JCB tractors have been used to tear up Palestinian villages.

The government body that assessed the initial claim, the UK National Contact Point, is a subsidiary of the Foreign Office established to oversee a little-known complaints procedure that gives an avenue to pressure multinational companies to abide by their corporate social responsibility undertakings, as set out by the OECD.

After examining LPHR’s claim and hearing JCB’s rebuttal, the government body said the NGO’s claim was “material and substantiated.”

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JCB’s defense was that it sold equipment to a third-party Israeli distributor, Comasco, and had no responsibility for what it was used for after that.

JCB, widely known in the UK for its distinctive yellow tractors, also said it could not be sure if the equipment sold to Comasco had been used to destroy Palestinian villages or build illegal settlements.

The OECD guidelines cited by LPHR require firms to seek ways to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts directly linked to their business operations.

The guidelines also require a policy commitment to human rights, and mandate that firms must conduct human rights due diligence.

“We welcome this initial assessment and the UK National Contact Point’s acknowledgment that there are serious human rights issues raised by our complaint under the OECD guidelines for multinational enterprises which warrant mediation or thorough investigation,” Tareq Shrourou, director of LPHR, said in a statement.

“JCB’s apparent failure to address the material and prolific use of its products in demolition and displacement incidents that cruelly impacts Palestinian families, and also its use in settlement-related construction which creates pervasive human rights violations, must cease immediately,” he added.

“We look forward to constructively engaging with JCB and expect it will do the right thing by complying with its human rights responsibilities.”

The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said JCB has long been complicit with Israeli violations against the Palestinians.

“JCB has already been listed on the UN database of companies identified as complicit in Israel’s violation of international law,” the PSC told Arab News.

“Public bodies should ensure that they are not investing in or procuring contracts with companies showing such disregard for human rights and the rule of law. The UK government should take action against UK companies complicit in such breaches.”

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