A selection of correspondence between Wood Group and Scottish PSC:
March 21st 2011
Dear Mr Papworth,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Aberdeen branch of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC). We have recently become aware that Wood Group has won a contract to build a natural gas power station in Ashkelon. We would be interested, in light of this information, for your comments on the deal and the ethical questions surrounding it.
The Wood Group contract with Dorad Energy will help Israel produce 8 per cent of its electricity in the near future[i]. After several recent large finds of natural gas[ii] in waters off its coast it appears that Israel will enjoy energy security for many years to come. Thus the Israeli Electric Corporation is set to continue to supply electricity to its people, both within the internationally recognised borders of Israel and its illegal settlements and outposts around the West Bank. Energy security, favourable trade deals with the European Union, and autonomous control over its borders, seas and exports mean that the future looks bright for the Israeli economy.
However, just ten miles from the city of Ashkelon lies the border of the Gaza Strip where, in 2010, the people of Gaza endured electricity cuts for 8-12 hours a day[iii]. This impacts on the everyday running of essential services such as health and education for a people already on its knees as a result of the Israeli blockade of Gaza[iv]. In November last year John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said that the easing of the blockade had made no material difference to the people of Gaza, with the continued embargo on building materials meaning that no new schools could be built[v]. No new power station can be built there either, and no large investment can be made by a British company that will provide economic and energy security for the Palestinian people. The abundance of natural gas that lies off the Gaza Strip’s coast remains untouched without the infrastructure to exploit it for the benefit of Gaza’s economy.
Clearly the UK is experiencing a very difficult economic climate and the argument will be put that companies need all the business they can find, however, this is mild compared to the state of the economy in Gaza. Despite the apparent easing of the blockade, almost nothing can be exported, meaning unless a company can sustain itself within the confines of Gaza, it will likely fail[vi]. Unemployment in Gaza stands at about 40 per cent[vii], the figure in Scotland is around 8 per cent[viii] and Aberdeen has the third lowest claimant rate of unemployment benefits of all the cities in the UK[ix]. Around 80 per cent of people in Gaza rely on food aid[x].
Many argue that economic integration and interdependence is the way to peace. However, although the UK government and the European Union have been eager to trade with Israel, they have done little to challenge Israel’s human rights record. Ever closer ties between the European Union and Israel, such as the EU-Israel Action Plan – a document that outlines the scope of integration – gives EU firms improved access to contracts within Israel and vice-a-versaxi.
The EU-Israel Action Plan and the EU-Israel Association Agreementxii lay out the framework for enhanced cooperation on a whole range of economic and infrastructural issues including energy, agricultural guidelines, and free trade. Importantly, these agreements also stress the commitment of the signing parties to promoting democracy, economic well-being, respect for human rights and international law. Economic integration with the EU should be predicated on Israeli adherence to these agreed terms. Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has repeatedly stated that Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal under international lawxiii and has reiterated the “call for an immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings in Gaza for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza.”xiv
In 2005, Palestinian civil society called for a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel[xi]. This call has been taken up by thousands of organisations around the world, including local authorities, trade unions and political parties. This has resulted in companies such as Veolia, Eden Springs, Deutsche Bahn subsequently losing contracts and therefore large amounts of money due to their involvement in Israel and the Occupied Territories[xii].
The UK government, by not being firm with Israel and ignoring the human rights and international law clauses of EU-Israeli agreements, is making a mockery of its own commitment to human rights and an ethical foreign policy. The actions of Wood Group, ignoring calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, are disrespectful to the human rights of the people of Palestine who live just 10 miles from the planned power station.
We therefore wish to know the answers to the following:
Why did Wood Group decide to ignore the Palestinian civil society call for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel?
What percentage of the workforce at the new plant will be Palestinians/Israeli Arabs?
What guarantees do you have that the electricity produced at the new plant will not be used to power illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank?
As Wood Group Chairman Ian Wood says: “As Wood Group has globalised, I have been increasingly aware of the huge imbalance between the “haves” and “have not’s” across the world. As well as more open trade, globalisation must also mean acceptance of responsibility to help improve the economic wellbeing of those people and nations which have not prospered”[xiii]. What will Wood Group be doing to ensure that those in Gaza, roughly ten miles from the new power plant, also prosper from Wood Group’s new initiative?
6 April 2011
Dear Mr Black,
I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 23 March addressed to Mr Mark Papworth of Wood Group Gas Turbines.
Wood Group is a global company that trades around the world, always mindful of its responsibilities to its employees, clients, shareholders and to the various communities in which it does business. I don’t feel it’s appropriate to comment on the specific issues raised in your letter, safe to say that Wood Group does business in a number of parts of the world where there are distressing conflicts which cause hardship and inequity. We have a clear policy of not becoming involved in politics or conflict in countries or regions and work within the various rules and regulations set by United Nations, the European Commission, UK Government, US Government and the Governments of various countries in which we work. We certainly do our best to try and ensure we don’t directly contribute to any hardship or inequity and indeed we help and contribute to all the communities in which we work.
Like everyone else, we would welcome a significant peace initiative to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict and remove the hardships and inequities you describe.
Director, Corporate Communications, Eastern Hemisphere.
06 May 2011
Dear Ms Smith,
We are writing in response to your letter of April 6th. Although we would like to thank you for responding to our letter of March 23rd, we were disappointed with your response. We are also disappointed to hear that Wood Group manager in Israel, Shlomo Cohen, has recently said of the Ashkelon power station: “The company considers this project as a cornerstone for extensive operations in Israel”.
We would challenge your view that it is not appropriate for you to comment on the specific issues raised in our letter. All the points that were put to Wood Group were relevant and worthy of a response. In particular the letter concluded with four questions; we were particularly disappointed that you were unable to answer these, and we would ask you again:
1. Why did Wood Group decide to ignore the Palestinian civil society call for the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel?
2. What percentage of the workforce at the new plant will be Palestinians/Israeli Arabs?
3. What guarantees do you have that the electricity produced at the new plant will not be used to power illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank?
4. As Wood Group Chairman Ian Wood says: “As Wood Group has globalised, I have been increasingly aware of the huge imbalance between the “haves” and “have not’s” across the world. As well as more open trade, globalisation must also mean acceptance of responsibility to help improve the economic wellbeing of those people and nations which have not prospered”[xiv]. What will Wood Group be doing to ensure that those in Gaza, roughly ten miles from the new power plant, also prosper from Wood Group’s new initiative?
In your letter of April 6th you say: “safe to say that Wood Group does business in a number of parts of the world where there are distressing conflicts which cause hardship and inequity”. This does not seem like something to be proud of, and appears to be at odds with Ian Wood’s “acceptance of responsibility” for the have-nots of the world. You also say “we help and contribute to all the communities in which we work”; we would be interested to know in which ways you will be helping and contributing to the communities of Gaza, less than 10 miles from Ashkelon.
You also say in your response: “We have a clear policy of not becoming involved in politics or conflict in countries or regions and work within the various rules and regulations” as defined in national and international law. It is entirely possible that Wood Group remains within the realms of national and international law. However, working in a state which systematically denies rights and resources to their neighbours, intimately involves Wood Group in the conflict. Global companies doing business within Israel gives the Israeli state the legitimacy (to continue its illegal policies) on the international scene that it so desires. That is why Palestinian civil society have called for a policy of Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment towards Israel – in order to de-legitimise its illegal, apartheid policies, and to ostracise it until such time as there is an equitable resolution (as with the South Africa boycott campaign of the past).
As Scotland’s “leading PLC of 2011”, Wood Group has to take responsibility for its actions. While technically staying within the realms of international law, doing business within Israel while the Israeli state continues to illegally occupy the West Bank and imprison the people of Gaza, means that it is on moral grounds where Wood Group’s actions are most questionable.
As you will be aware, other companies who have chosen to do business with apartheid Israel, such as Veolia and Eden Springs, are now losing contracts and international reputation as a result. Just as Wood Group plans to expand its work in Israel, the international BDS campaign will continue to expand its campaigns against those who are complicit with the crimes of Israel.
2 June 2011
Dear Mr Black,
Thank you for your note.
We made it clear in our letter of 6 April that we have a clear policy of not becoming involved in politics or conflict in countries or regions and work within the various rules and regulations set by United Nations, the European Commission, UK Government, US Government and the Governments of various countries in which we work. We certainly do our best to try and ensure we don’t directly contribute to any hardship or inequity and indeed we help and contribute to all the communities in which we work.
I’m sorry but we really feel we cannot add to that.
Director, Corporate Communications, Eastern Hemisphere.
[i] Mark Smith (2010), “Wood Group seals landmark deal to build Israeli gas power station”, in The Herald, published December 1st, 2010. Available online at: http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/corporate-sme/wood-group-seals-landmark-deal-to-build-israeli-gas-power-station-1.1071789
[ii] Ethan Bronner (2010), “Natural Gas Deposits Improve Israel’s Energy Outlook”, in The New York Times, published August 20th, 2010. Available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/21/world/middleeast/21israel.html?_r=1&ref=middleeast
[iii] The Gisha Legal Center for Freedom of Movement (May 2010). “Electricity Shortage in Gaza: Who Turned Out the Lights?”. Available online at: http://gisha.org/UserFiles/File/publications/ElectricitypaperEnglish.pdf
[v] BBC News website (2010). “’No change in Gaza’ since blockade eased, says UN”. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11737623
[vi] Jon Donnison (2010). “Israel’s eased blockade ‘still crippling’ Gaza”, BBC News website. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11868589
[vii] BBC News website (2010). “Gaza businesses boxed in by Israeli export ban”, published November 2nd 2010. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11668080
[viii] Keith Findlay and Alan Jones (2011). “Decline in number of Scots jobless”, in the Press and Journal, published January 20th, 2011.. Available online at: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/2098396?UserKey=
[ix] Centre for Cities (2011). “Cities Outlook 2011”. Available online at http://centreforcities.cdn.meteoric.net/CITIES_OUTLOOK_2011.pdf
[x] BBC News website (2010). “Gaza businesses boxed in by Israeli export ban”, published November 2nd 2010. Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11668080
[xi] European Union (2005) EU/Israel Action Plan, adopted in April 2005. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/world/enp/pdf/action_plans/israel_enp_ap_final_en.pdf
xii European Union (2000) The EU-Israel Association Agreement, agreed in June 2000. Available on line at: http://ec.europa.eu/delegations/israel/documents/eu_israel/asso_agree_en.pdf
xiii European Union (2011) Statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on demolition and settlements in East Jerusalem, statement made on January 9th 2011 (most recent), Brussels. Available online at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/118727.pdf
(For more see: http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/hr/index_en.htm#top)
xiv EU Business Website (2010) ”EU’s Ashton calls for immediate end to Gaza embargo”, published May 28th 2010. Available online at: http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/mideast-conflict.4xr/
xv Global BDS Movement. “About Us”. Available online at http://bdsmovement.net/?q=node/68
[xii] The London Daily News (2011), “Tower Hamlets votes to cancel Veolia contract because of Israel ties”, published February 11th 2011. Available online at: http://www.thelondondailynews.com/tower-hamlets-votes-cancel-veolia-contract-because-israel-ties-p-5083.html
Juliane von Mittelstaedt (2010), “German Rail Under Fire for Controversial Israeli Project”, published November 19th 2010. Available online at http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,730090,00.html