Yediot: Pressure pushes Swedish owned company out of West Bank industrial zone
Nevit Zomer, Zvi Singer and Yigal Rom (Copenhagen), Yediot, December 22 [page 13]
Mul-T-Lock, which is under Swedish ownership, will be relocating its lock factory out of the Barkan industrial zone to a new location inside the Green Line. The reason for this decision is political pressure from human rights organizations and the Swedish church.
“The company is not interested in operating the factory in an area over which there is a political dispute as to who possesses ownership rights,” explained yesterday Ann Holmberg, the spokeswoman for the giant Swedish lock company, Assa Alboy, which owns Mul-T-Lock. She said that the decision was connected to a critical report that was filed by NGOs, which criticized Assa Alboy for having a connection to a factory that operates, as they put it, in occupied territory.
A scathing report by human rights organizations and the Swedish church, which was submitted to the corporation’s board of directors a year ago, warned the board members that they could face prosecution for violating international law, which bans the establishment of settlements in occupied territory. “The activity of the company in the occupied territories not only contradicts international law, but also undermines the chances of reaching a peace arrangement, and it has legal and moral implications,” wrote the authors of the report, who hail from the Swedish church; Diakonia, a Swedish company that assists developing countries; and SwedWatch, which examines the financial and business relations that Swedish companies maintain in developing countries.
Two months ago Assa Alboy announced its decision to relocate Mul-T-Lock from its current location in the Barkan industrial zone to Modiin. Ann Holmberg added an apology in the name of the corporation for having owned a factory in occupied territory for eight years. Assa Alboy bought the Israeli Mul-T-Lock in 2000. She promised to rectify the situation.
The Gush Shalom movement, which played an active role in pressuring Mul-T-Lock, issued a statement at the time that read: “We hope for the collapse of the Barkan industrial zone, which strengthens the settlements and damages the future of the state.”
The controversial decision notwithstanding, Tzahi Weisenfeld, an Assa Alboy VP (the highest-ranking Israeli in the corporation), said that the corporation would continue to invest in Israel. He said that Mul-T-Lock’s activity was expected to increase and that Assa Alboy would continue to buy and to promote mergers in Israel.
Mul-T-Lock intends to utilize the relocation to Modiin for integrating the activity that is currently done in the Barkan industrial zone factory—manufacturing parts—with the work done in a second Mul-T-Lock factory in Yavne, which is responsible for assembly. The new and united factory which will be opened within one year’s time, will be built with an investment of NIS 80 million. Mul-T-Lock is currently negotiating the acquisition of land in the Modiin industrial zone to build the new plant, which will have 15,000 square meters of production space. The 350 workers at the two existing factories will continue to be employed by the new factory.
Samaria Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika refused last night to comment on the Assa Alboy decision. That said, Samaria Regional Council officials noted that the majority of workers employed by the company in the Barkan industrial zone were Palestinians and that, as such, the decision was likely to be detrimental mainly to Palestinians, and not Jewish settlers.
Workers at Mul-T-Lock said they were mainly afraid that the decision would adversely affect their quality of life. “People aren’t going to want to have to travel far to their workplace,” explained one of the women who work at the plant. Another woman employed by Mul-T-Lock said: “We still can’t feel the end, and everything is normal for the time being. When we reach that bridge, we’ll cross it.”