Soft drink company SodaStream is closing the factory in the West Bank that drew Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson into the dispute about Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territory.
The company said the decision to move the factory to a location inside Israel was for 'purely commercial' reasons and was not connected to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists who had boycotted the company because of its location. The company however said it was “sorry” for the ad starring Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson, following a year of negative publicity, the Independent reported.
“We made a mistake spending millions of dollars in a Super Bowl commercial to get Scarlett Johansson to say ‘Sorry, Pepsi and Coke’, because people don’t want to drink Coca-Cola; they’re looking for ways to drink more water. That was our mistake and we’re sorry," SdaStream's chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum said.
A pro-Palestinian boycott movement has targeted businesses that operate in the West Bank, saying they benefit from Israel's occupation of the territory, which was captured in 1967 and is claimed by the Palestinians.
Actress Scarlett Johansson got caught up in the controversy over the plant's location earlier this year after she agreed to serve as SodaStream's global brand ambassador.
The decision upset Oxfam International, a humanitarian aid organization for which Johansson had served as a global ambassador for eight years.
The US star severed her ties with the UK charity because of the dispute, citing 'fundamental differences of opinion.'
In March, Johansson denied her decision to join SodaStream was mistaken.
"No, I stand behind that decision," she told The Observer. "I was aware of that particular factory before I signed. And it still doesn't seem like a problem – at least not until someone comes up with a solution to the closing of that factory and leaving all those people destitute."
The Palestinian boycott campaign welcomed Wednesday's announcement by SodaStream International Ltd, saying its boycott caused retailers to drop SodaStream, known for its machines that allow users to make their own fizzy drinks.
SodaStream representative Nirit Hurwitz said the new location received a $20 million grant from the Israeli government.
The new location "will become our flagship manufacturing site and is expected to deliver operational excellence and result in savings of 2 percent across our entire cost base." she said.
The move is expected to be complete by the end of next year.
SodaStream has defended the factory in the past, saying it employs hundreds of Palestinians and gives them equal benefits as Israeli workers. Most of them are from nearby West Bank towns.
The company said it would try to keep all of its workers at the new plant, though they will face lengthy commutes and need permits to work inside Israel.
For Palestinian workers from the nearby city of Ramallah, the new facility will be over 100 kilometers away. From Hebron, another nearby city in the southern West Bank, the commute will be about 50 kilometers.
"We are offering all employees the opportunity to join us in Lehavim, and specifically, we are working with the Israeli government to secure work permits for our Palestinian employees," SodaStream Chief Executive Daniel Birnbaum said.
Rafeef Ziadah, a spokesman for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, said its campaign against SodaStream forced the company's hand in the West Bank decision.
'SodaStream’s announcement today shows that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism,' Siadah said in a post on the group's Facebook page.
'BDS campaign pressure has forced retailers across Europe and North America to drop SodaStream, and the company’s share price has tumbled in recent months as our movement has caused increasing reputational damage to the SodaStream brand.'
He said, however, that SodaStream was implicated in the displacement of Palestinians even if the factory closure goes ahead, alleging it paid them less than Israeli workers and forced them to work in sub-standard conditions.
Meanwhile, Johansson has given birth to a girl, her first child with her French journalist Romain Dauriac. They named her Rose.
The couple have been engaged since September 2013. The Hollywood star was previously married to actor Ryan Reynolds. They divorced in 2011, reported the JPost.