Tory donor JCB facing investigation over use of its equipment in Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes

JCB machinery destroying homes in Palestine
Tom Anderson

British construction company JCB is facing an investigation after a UK government body found that a complaint against it by UK charity Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR) is “material and substantiated”.

The complaint was made to the UK National Contact Point (UK NCP). It claims that JCB’s supply of construction equipment used in the demolition of Palestinian homes and property by Israeli forces is in breach of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) guidelines on human rights. It is trying to force JCB to ensure that its equipment is not used in home demolitions.

Following UK NCP’s publication of its “initial assessment”, JCB will now enter into a government-overseen mediation process with LPHR.

Supporting colonisation in Palestine

JCB equipment is regularly used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes. Over 600 Palestinian homes and structures were demolished in 2019 alone. Demolitions of Palestinian homes and property are part of the Israeli state’s colonisation policy in Palestine, and are illegal under international law.

Research by UK based research cooperative Shoal Collective showed that during 2019 almost 30,000 Palestinians were affected by demolitions carried out by the Israeli state using JCB equipment. JCB machines also uprooted almost 7,000 Palestinian olive and fruit trees.

A major donor to Boris Johnson

In 2019, Fréa Lockley wrote for The Canary:

Anthony Bamford is chairman of construction company JCB. Johnson’s MP register of interests shows that donations from Bamford and JCB total £121,000 in 2019 alone.

The Bamford family has an estimated wealth of £3.6bn. Since 2001, Electoral Commission records show the Bamfords and JCB have given “almost £10m in political donations”, primarily to the Conservative Party and groups “campaigning to leave” the EU.

The Canary contacted the prime minister’s office for comment, asking if the prime minister and Conservative Party would continue to accept donations from JCB, considering the new investigation against it. We had not received a reply at the time of writing.

Further investigation

According to a press release by LPHR, the charity has submitted a:

comprehensive evidence-based complaint… which submits that JCB is failing to take the actions needed to identify, prevent, mitigate and address the use of its heavy machinery products in demolitions and settlement construction that violate the human rights of Palestinians. The use of JCB’s machinery in these linked activities is material and prolific.

UK NCP has decided a further investigation is necessary. According to LPHR:

The Initial Assessment decision reveals that JCB accepts that LPHR’s submitted evidence does show its machinery being used to demolish homes and other structures. Palestinian Bedouin communities in Area C of the occupied West Bank are particularly vulnerable to demolitions and displacement in violation of their human rights, such as the right to adequate housing.

The Initial Assessment also reveals that JCB is currently silent on the use of its products in illegal settlement-related construction. On 28 February 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights listed JCB on its database of companies with a “substantial and material” involvement in settlement activities, finding that “the violations of human rights associated with settlements are devastating and pervasive, reaching every facet of Palestinian life.”

Mediation

UK NCP will now organise mediation between JCB and LPHR. If this mediation fails then a full investigation will be carried out. The charity is hopeful that the mediation will prove sucessful. Tareq Shrourou of LPHR stated:

We look forward to constructively engaging with JCB and expect it will do the right thing by complying with its human rights responsibilities. LPHR’s objective of ending JCB’s unacceptable involvement in human rights violations against Palestinians should be a shared one.

LPHR states that JCB may be expected to sever relationships with Israeli company Comasco, which distributes JCB machinery in Israel:

If JCB is unwilling or unable to use its leverage to take appropriate preventative or mitigation steps, or if such efforts fail, JCB will be expected to end its business relationship with Comasco in order to break its direct link to human rights violations, and achieve necessary compliance with its human rights responsibilities under the government-backed OECD Guidelines.

JCB response

The Canary contacted JCB for a comment about LPHR’s complaint. We received a lengthy response from Schillings, a law firm working for JCB. Schillings claim that UK NCP’s initial response to the LPHR complaint did not go as far as accusing JCB of complicity in home demolitions. The statements reads:

We are very pleased that the UK NCP has dismissed at the earliest opportunity, any suggestion that JCB is in involved in, or causes or contributes towards any human rights abuses whatsoever.

There was no basis for the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights to make their complaint alleging this.

As an organisation JCB does not condone any form of human rights abuse and we have a consistent record of providing urgent and substantial support in response to natural disasters around the world.

While the NCP will now examine JCB’s human rights due diligence process, it has made clear that its decision to do so is not a finding against JCB and does not mean that it considers that JCB has acted in any way inconsistently with the OECD Guidelines.

We welcome the opportunity of engaging further with the NCP on these matters

This response appears to show that JCB is beginning to take the complaints over its company’s supply of bulldozers used in Israel’s home demolitions more seriously. JCB has maintained a wall of silence over the previous complaints made by campaigners and others which date back to 2012.

It seems likely that the company is beginning to perceive the issues raised by LPHR and other campaigners as a threat to its brand image.

So what did UK NCP say?

But despite JCB claiming that UK NCP “dismissed” JCB’s involvement in human rights abuses, it has found issues that it wants to examine further. In its initial assessment, it did absolve JCB of direct involvement, stating:

it does not consider that the information provided by the complainant demonstrates that JCB has caused or contributed to the issues raised. 

But it also stated that it does:

consider that the information demonstrates that there may be a link between JCB and the issues raised through its supply chain and business relationships.

Grassroots campaigning

Meanwhile, Palestine solidarity organisers across the UK have launched grassroots campaigns against the company. Two groups of activists from campaign group Stop the Demolitions locked themselves in the road to shut down JCB’s UK premises. Campaigns have also been launched against the company’s franchised dealerships in Sheffield and Farnham.

Students at Sheffield Hallam University protested against the university’s partnership with JCB in March:

Stop the Demolitions

All these campaigns are part of a grassroots network dedicated to forcing JCB to end its supply of equipment to Israel. In the words of research group Corporate Occupation:

As people in the West Bank face the guns of the Israeli military to resist the demolitions of their homes, international solidarity movements can take action against the companies manufacturing the bulldozers.

Tom Anderson is part of Shoal Collective, whose research is referenced above. He is also part of the Stop the Demolitions campaign.

Featured Image via Shoal Collective/Corporate Occupation (with permission)

Get involved

  • Check out Palestine Action’s call to action against JCB.
  • Support ICAHD UK’s campaign to persuade the NSPCC to stop accepting donations from JCB and watch their webinar about resisting home demolitions from the UK.
  • Read Shoal Collective’s book, Resisting the Demolitions in Palestine.
  • Find out if your university has investments or partnerships with JCB.

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