Conservative Party receive £1.3m from JCB despite recognised links to human rights abuses in West Bank

Conservative Party receive £1.3m from JCB despite recognised links to human rights abuses in West Bank
JCB equipment used to destroy residences in Mufagara, near Hebron, the West Bank in 2019.

The Conservative Party has come under significant scrutiny after it was revealed by openDemocracy that it, and some individual members, had accepted more than £1.3m in donations from British construction manufacturer, JC Bamford Excavators (JCB) and the Bamford family, it’s owners. Among the top three manufacturers of construction equipment in the world, JCB has been under scrutiny for supplying sole Israeli buyer, Comasco, with equipment that has been used for the destruction of Palestinian villages, the erasure of culture and livelihoods, and the construction of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land for some time.

 

Use of JCB equipment in destruction of Palestinian lives

 

A number of organisations, such as Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, as well as, Amnesty International have argued that JCB is a “key supplier of machinery used in this systematic violation of human rights and has failed to take effective action” to prevent further abuses using their equipments. 

 

This has been a longstanding accusation levelled at JCB. Videos and photographic evidence dating back to 2006 shows their equipment, particularly bulldozers, being used to destroy Palestinian homes, buildings and other structures in order to establish illegal Israeli settlements. 

 

In 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) published a database that detailed 112 business enterprises following a 2018 report that investigated a total of 321 organisations that were alleged to be involved in various human rights violations related to the construction of Israeli settlements. Of those 112 (of which the majority are Israeli), 3 British companies were listed; JC Bamford Excavators Limited, online travel company Opodo Limited, and Greenkote P.L.C, a metal, alloy and plastics producer for vehicles, construction and defence weaponry. With the former involved in the destruction of Palestinian life, Opodo Limited listed (at the time of recording) up to fourteen accommodations on illegal Israeli settlements. The latter, Greenkote, operates at Barkan Industrial Zone, an illegal settlement in the West Bank, providing products and services to the Israeli army. 

 

There are a number of requirements for inclusion on this database. Enterprises must be involved in one or more of the following: “provision of services and utilities supporting the maintenance and existence settlements”,“the supply of equipment for the demolition of housing and property, the destruction of agricultural farms, greenhouses, olive groves and crops”, the “supply of equipment and materials” for settlements and the apartheid wall, and the “supply of surveillance and identification equipment for settlements”. To become actively listed on this database, said companies must either be “itself engaged in a listed activity in the Occupied Palestinian territory” (OPt), be a “parent company owning a majority share (minority shares are not listed) of a subsidiary” engaging in listed activities, or an “enterprise that grants a relevant franchise or license to those engaged in listed activities in OPt.”

 

JCB’s continued existence on this database is testament to it’s ongoing provision of vital equipment needed to carry out the erasure of Palestinian life. In their report, Amnesty verified 56 separate incidents between 2011 and 2021, “where JCB machinery has been used in the OPt resulting in human rights violations”. In one such incident, in July 2021, in the Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsa, located in the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank, Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, reported that vital agricultural infrastructure, as well as, homes were destroyed using JCB equipment. In total, 13 residential and 17 agricultural structures at Khirbet Humsa were destroyed. The Israeli authorities cited a dubious ‘Firing Zones’ policy, suggesting that the Bedouin structures were “erected illegally in a military live-fire zone”. This is a policy that has been widely recognised, particularly after a +972 report on a file leak, that the establishment of “military firing zones” in OPt are a “mechanism for transferring land to settlements”. The action, condemned by the UN and the EU, destroyed the ancestral homes of generations of Palestinian Bedouin families.

 

JCB equipment used in the destruction of Khirbet Humsa, 2021

 

Alongside the very clear implications of destroying long occupied homes, JCB equipment has also been used to destroy the livelihoods of Palestinian families, decimating their cultural and financial lives. Of particular symbolic concern are the family-owned, olive tree groves. In 2019 alone, JCB equipment was used to uproot 450 olive trees, many of which have been handed down through generations. Affiliated heavily with steadfast Palestinian existence under occupation, the olive trees, that are able to exist in harsh and dry conditions, have significant cultural weight and symbolises their connection to their land. Of course, significance is more than cultural, production related to these trees contributes to 14% of the Palestinian economy and are a primary source of income for up to 800 000 families. This wide significance means that the trees have become a significant target of the Israeli occupation. Since 1967, more than 800 000 olive trees have been illegally uprooted. 

 

OECD Guidelines, 2019 LPHR Complaint and the ‘JCB Off Track’ Amnesty Report

 

In December 2019, UK-based charity, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) lodged a complaint with the UK’s National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), accusing JCB of violating their guidelines by continuing to sell equipment to organisations committing human rights abuses. These guidelines are “voluntary principles for responsible business conduct” and largely relate to a range of issues related to human and labour rights, and the environment for multinational businesses. The complaint by LPHR posited that the mounting reports, alongside clear and numerous photographic and video evidence of JCB machinery being “used in the demolition of Palestinian properties and settlement-related construction caused adverse human rights impacts” and thus violates Chapter IV of the OECD Guidelines. 

 

Largely, Chapter IV refers to businesses duties to protect human rights, suggesting that “enterprises should, work within the framework of internationally recognised human rights, the international obligations of the countries in which they operate, as well as, domestic law and regulations”. These businesses must “seek ways to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts” (paragraph 3, Chapter IV), “have a policy commitment to respect human rights” (paragraph 4, Chapter IV), and “carry out human rights due diligence as appropriate to their size” (paragraph 5, Chapter IV). 

 

Much of this case was related to JC Bamford’s relationship with it’s sole Israeli buyer, Comasco. At the initial stages of the investigation, the NCP offered JCB mediation, which was refused, they also did not provide any expert evidence to refute the accusation and denied that JCB equipment could have “been directly bought from Comasco”, despite the latter being their only buyer within Israel. Continuing along this vein, they also stated that it had “not sold machinery to contractors carrying out the acts complained of in the OPt, or to the Israeli government”, implying that these goods may have been bought on the second-hand market without their knowledge. As stated in Amnesty’s report, whilst it is “theoretically possible for Comasco to be maintaining MoD equipment that was purchased from elsewhere, it is more likely that the Israeli government and its security services are purchasing products directly from Comasco, JCB’s sole agent”. 

 

Further, JCB has rather extensive influence over a good portion of the second-hand market. As a certifier of used machines and also an advertiser of those which have been certified, JCB provides a service in which they point customers “in the direction of dealers who stock and maintain these machines”. This indicates that the company will direct customers in Israel to Comasco, in fact, their website does just this. 

 

This state of denial largely encapsulates JCB’s efforts to distance themselves from the clear human rights abuses perpetrated with their machinery, whilst maintaining business relationships which allow them to continue to sell to Comasco. 

 

Perhaps the most pertinent point is that JCB deploy the notion that they are unaware of the use of their products in a manner that violates international law, despite the existence of what JCB call ‘LiveLink’ technology. This is a system fitted to some JCB products that records and enables users to locate and analyse critical data about their products. As illustrated by Amnesty’s report, the companies privacy policy stipulates that LiveLink is active as they “leave the factory”. Thus indicating that JCB is able to maintain a in-depth understanding of where and when their equipment is being used. Further degrading their position of denial.

 

In 2021, the NCP published it’s findings and conclusion. The NCP acknowledged that JCB had “not take[n] any steps to conduct human rights due diligence of any kind despite being aware of alleged adverse human rights impacts” and that their equipment “are potentially contributing to those impacts”. Reflecting that “it is unfortunate that JCB, which is a leading British manufacturer of world-class products” had neglected their duties to human rights principles. Therefore, JCB had not been observing aspects of Chapter IV, particularly paragraph 5. The NCP recommended that the manufacturer should “go beyond simply identifying and managing material risks to the enterprise”, and fully embed human rights principles, as well as, establish more concrete due diligence methods. However, the NCP, despite recognising that the company “does have some leverage over Comasco, due to its business relationship”, it fell short of ruling that JCB breached its “obligations under article 3 of Chapter IV”. 

 

Links to the Conservative Party

 

The context surrounding JCB’s dubious relationship with settler colonial actions and the Israeli occupation, particularly concerning during the accelerated ethnic cleansing of Palestinian’s in the Gaza Strip, makes their contributions to the Conservative Party incredibly concerning. 

 

Reported by openDemocracy, since the 2020 OHCHR report on JCB’s links to violations in the West Bank, the Conservative Party have received £1.3 million from the Bamford family, “this includes £218 000 from JCB companies, £983 000 from Mark Bamford, a director of JC Bamford, and £100 000 from the companies chair, Anthony Bamford, who is a Conservative Peer”.

 

Further, more recently, Conservative MP Simon Clarke has received significant financial aid from the company. JC Bamford Excavators donated £400 000 to “fund the employment of a campaign manager”. 

 

JCB continue to fail to implement measures to prevent the misuse of its goods overseas, and worryingly, show few signs of acknowledging that they are even used in this regard. Whilst Amnesty, Business and Human Rights Centre, and LPHR all have written to JCB highlighting these issues (which were ignored), with the OHCHR and UK NCP both ruling that the company is aiding in the violation of basic human rights principles, there can be no excuse for the Conservative Party and it’s members accepting money from this organisation. 

 

Particularly at a time when the Israeli government is being investigated for legitimate war crimes and genocide, impACT International suggests that in order to regain legitimacy under foundational human rights principles, the Conservative Party must sever all ties with JC Bamford Excavators until they, at a minimum, fully comply with OECD Guidelines. 

 

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