British retailer denies boycotting Israeli cosmetics

John Lewis spokesman says anti-Israel group created “false and misleading" information; chain still stocks Israeli goods.

By JONNY PAUL
January 16, 2011 02:30
4 minute read.
John Lewis

john lewis 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

LONDON – One of the UK’s largest retailers has refuted a claim by an anti- Israel campaign group that it no longer stocks products from a major Israeli cosmetics company for political reasons, condemning the group for creating “false and misleading” information.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) implied on Friday that the awardwinning British retail giant the John Lewis Partnership – which owns the John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarket chains – had stopped stocking products from Israeli cosmetics company Ahava after PSC wrote to the company’s managing director.

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“Ahava’s goods, processed on stolen Palestinian land, are becoming too hot to handle. Leading British retail business John Lewis is now refusing to stock this toxic brand,” the PSC – a radical fringe group which supports Hamas, a blanket boycott of Israel and a one-state solution – claimed on Friday.

Claiming “yet another victory for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement,” the fringe group put out a press release implying that it had impacted on the store’s decision after receiving a response to a letter the group had written to Andy Street, managing director of John Lewis.

The PSC said in its press release: “John Lewis managing director, Andy Street, wrote to the PSC in a letter dated 7 January: ‘As a socially responsible retailer, John Lewis takes very seriously the treatment of workers and their working conditions.

We expect all our suppliers not only to obey the law, but also to respect the rights, interests and well-being of their employees, their communities and the environment.’ He ended by stating: ‘In relation to your specific enquiry about Ahava Dead Sea products, I can confirm that John Lewis has ceased stocking these particular products.’”

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Friday, a spokesman for John Lewis emphatically denied PSC’s claim, stating that while the retailer had stopped stocking Ahava products, it was purely a commercial decision.

He added that John Lewis was an “apolitical” organization, and that the decision to cease stocking Ahava was made “well before” PSC sent its letter.

“To be clear, John Lewis’s decision to no longer stock Ahava beauty products was a commercial decision based solely on the sales performance of the products.

“Our buyers regularly review the performance of all our ranges, with new products being added and less successful ones being removed throughout the year,” the spokesman told the Post.

“I can confirm that the PSC wrote to Andy Street to ask firstly about whether we had ceased to sell Ahava products, and secondly our stance on ethical sourcing.

“At John Lewis, ensuring that we reply straightforwardly to any query is an important element in the way we communicate with our customers. Andy responded to confirm that we no longer sell Ahava products, a decision which had been taken and implemented well before he received the PSC’s letter. This was a purely commercial decision.

“In addition, in the content of his letter of response, Andy outlined John Lewis's responsible sourcing policy. This information is entirely unrelated to the decision to cease stocking Ahava products; however the person who wrote the PSC’s press release put the two elements together to create a false and misleading quote,” the spokesman said.

John Lewis said it stocks a vast range of Israeli goods, and will continue to do so.

“We can confirm that we continue to stock products sourced from Israel,” the spokesmans said.

Last year, the PSC failed to persuade the major supermarket chains in the UK to boycott Israeli goods following a number of protests at branches of Tesco and Waitrose.

A Tesco spokesman said at the time that the boycott call was the act of a “vocal minority,” and that it had no impact on trade at all.

“We have sourced products from Israel for many years and this policy remains unchanged,” the supermarket giant said in a statement at the time.

“We will continue working with suppliers there while they produce fruit, vegetables and other products that our customers want to buy.”

Commenting after the protests last January, a spokesperson for Waitrose also said there had been no impact on trade and that business was operating as normal.

In 2009, the group urged people to inundate the supermarket head offices with nuisance calls “for as long as Palestinian rights are denied by the apartheid regime.”

Also in 2009, the Scottish arm of the PSC claimed it had been pivotal in persuading a number of local councils to terminate contracts with Israeli mineral water company Eden Springs.

With one council saying that it was “a complete fabrication”, all emphatically denied the allegation stating that decisions on procurement was based on “practical and cost effective factors.”


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