Occupied territories label impracticable, says retail federation

Summary

According to retail industry federation Comeos, a new initiative aimed at alerting consumers to products originating from Israel is too difficult to implement

Responsibility lies with suppliers, not consumers

A label intended to show when products on sale in Belgium were produced in Israel and occupied Palestinian territories is “practically unworkable,” according to the retail industry federation Comeos. The label is the idea of outgoing economy and consumer affairs minister Johan Vande Lanotte, who introduced the measure by means of a ministerial circular rather than new legislation. The acting federal government is limited to dealing with on-going matters, and may not take new initiatives.

The label would not be compulsory. However, Comeos managing director Dominique Michel said the system proposed is much too complex. “There would need to be at least three different labels – for products from Israel, Palestinian areas and the occupied territories,” he explained. “For supermarkets, this is unwieldy.”

Israel’s major exports are mostly in machinery and chemicals, but they also export mobile phones and produce, particularly citrus fruits.

The information for any special labelling, said Michel, is often difficult to come by. “For every product on the shelves, they would first have to find out where it originated from, which is not always possible. Then they would have to apply the proper label, which is a time-consuming business.”

The label puts the responsibility for imposing sanctions on Israel in the hands of the consumer, Michel said, while the government has sufficient political and diplomatic instruments to send a signal to Israel. The main supermarket chains have made it clear they have no intention of adopting Vande Lanotte’s system.

However supermarkets and their suppliers can play an important role in a campaign, according to Bogdan Vanden Berghe, secretary-general of the charity 11.11.11. Their campaign “Made in Illegality” had as one of its aims a system of clearly labelling produce from Israeli-occupied territories and called for a complete economic and trade embargo on Israel.

“Suppliers are in a better position to say where products come from, since they’re the ones who buy them,” said Vanden Berghe. “And supermarkets have the power to demand transparency from suppliers. We hope businesses will be interested enough to make use of the label.”