Fizz goes out of 'blood bubbles'

For many of us, it was the novel Christmas gift that turned tapwater fizzy and made a cool whooshing noise to boot. For Teuila Field, though, the SodaStream machine in her kitchen has become the object of unexpected soul-searching.

Last week Field learnt that Israeli company SodaStream International, which made her environmentally friendly bench-top water carbonator, operates a large factory from within an Israeli settlement on the occupied West Bank.

For Field, that's "the beverage equivalent of buying clothes made in sweatshops".

Now she can't decide whether to throw it away (wasteful of the resources she was trying to conserve in the first place by refilling reusable bottles), keep on using it (supporting a regime she disapproves of ), or sit tight and hope that the company comes to its senses and moves its factory.

Field is not alone. SodaStream says it has six million active users of its machines. But its growing popularity and visibility worldwide are being matched by the growing clamour from pro-Palestinian activists.

Their attacks on SodaStream are part of a broader campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli companies, especially those active in the occupied territories.

Last week, things came to a head when the humanitarian charity Oxfam chastised Scarlett Johansson for becoming SodaStream's "global brand ambassador". She will appear in a TV ad for SodaStream during America's famed Super Bowl on February 2.

Rather awkwardly, the Hollywood star is already an ambassador for Oxfam. In a press release the charity said it "deeply value[d] Johansson's support" , but was "opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law".

Janfrie Wakim, spokesperson for New Zealand's Palestine Human Rights Campaign, said activists here were aware SodaStream is a problem, but until now the company has received little organised attention of the kind that has seen retail stores picketed in Europe and the US.

Wakim said pickets and protests here this year were "a very realistic prospect", especially as 2014 is the "UN Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People". SodaStream products are currently sold in most major New Zealand supermarkets and chainstores.

A recent article in New York Magazine said some politically conscious SodaStream owners had taken to hiding their machine under their sink to avoid being accused of keeping "blood bubbles" in their house.

Wakim compares SodaStream protests with boycotts of South African wine in the 1970s.

"It is certainly like apartheid-era wine. To be profiting from the labour and the land of an occupied people is against international law. Just as South Africa was an outlier in the 70s and 80s, Israel has been an outlier for a long time. It's time its practices were exposed and it was internationally shamed into conforming with international law, UN resolutions and the Geneva Conventions."

In a statement, a New Zealand spokesperson for SodaStream defended the company's practices. He said the facility in the "disputed" area of Mishor Adumim was just one of three in Israel and 25 worldwide.

He said the factory had been inherited by new management who took over in 2007, and a new "primary facility" was being built elsewhere in Israel in an area that is not disputed. He said there was nothing illegal about the factory nor its exports under UN, EU or other laws, that all employees were treated equally, and that the factory working conditions had passed external audits.

All the same, Field says if she'd known about the factory when buying her SodaStream, "I wouldn't have got it", and she'll now have to think twice about using it again. "By continuing to refill it, I'm still supporting that regime'.'

Field said worldwide, SodaStream needed to "tread very carefully" to avoid alienating its best customers.

"The kind of people who would buy SodaStream are the kind of people who want to have less of an environmental impact, so they are also the kind of people who are going to question the ethical background of the products they buy."

Field doesn't know if she'll be able to find an alternative brands of home-carbonators, but figures she'll survive regardless.

"I'm just as happy to stop using it. I've got perfectly good water coming out of the tap, and if it doesn't have bubbles in it, woopdedoo! First world problems. I don't want to support a product that's being made in illegally occupied territories."

Sunday Star Times