Dangerous liaisons in Israeli settlements: Orange and its shareholder the French State

Civil society organisations denounce the business relationship between the Orange Group and Partner Communications, which operates in Israeli settlements located in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the participation of the French State as a shareholder of Orange.

6 May 2015 – After numerous unsuccessful attempts to enter into dialogue with Orange*, five non-governmental organisations and two trade unions** are releasing a report today that indicates that, through its business relationship with the Israeli telecommunications company Partner, Orange would indirectly be contributing to the maintenance and strengthening of Israeli settlements located in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, settlements considered illegal by the international community.

In these settlements, Partner is building infrastructure on confiscated Palestinian land and offers services to settlers and the Israeli army. Furthermore, Partner benefits from the restrictions placed by the Israeli authorities on the Palestinian economy and is thereby contributing to it being stifled.

Civil society organisations have raised their concerns regarding Orange’s contract with Partner repeatedly over several years. This contract authorises Partner to use the international Orange brand for advertising and other purposes. This brand name licensing agreement, which is crucial for Partner’s marketing strategy, was renewed in 2011 and includes the payment of royalties to Orange, thus allowing Orange to benefit from this business relationship. A 2015 amendment to the brand license agreement included an increase of the royalty rate owed to Orange , a change that will come into effect in 2019. The report argues that Orange should put an end to its business relationship with Partner in order to align its business operations with its responsibility to respect human rights, as set out in the Group code of ethics and in the OECD Guidelines and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Although Orange has been approached repeatedly, the organisations that drafted this report regret that, to their knowledge, neither Orange nor the French authorities have yet to take the necessary steps.

As the principal minority shareholder in the Orange group (25.05% of the capital) and in light of its international human rights obligations, the French government must take all necessary measures to ensure that Orange review its business relationship with Partner and terminate any activities that entail its involvement in violations of human rights and international law. As it stands, the French authorities have been acquiescent and therefore indirectly enabled the company to benefit from internationally unlawful Israeli acts that underpin the establishment and maintenance of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This runs contrary to France’s own stated policy commitments regarding the illegal status of settlements, and the overwhelming condemnations of such Israeli actions by EU institutions and the international community writ large.

This situation is especially paradoxical since France, the European Union and other European governments have repeatedly stated that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and constitute an obstacle to peace. In June 2014 the French government issued an advisory to French businesses on the legal and economic risks entailed by their activities and transactions in Israeli settlements or benefiting those settlements. In line with this statement, the French authorities would have recently contacted Safege, a company conducting a preliminary study on a cable installation project in East Jerusalem, which has since announced that it is withdrawing from the project. It is hoped that the French authorities will approach Orange in a similar manner.

The present report falls under the “Made in Illegality” campaign that calls upon European governments to terminate, their economic relations with Israeli settlements so as to bring the Israeli government-sanctioned settlement enterprise to an end, one of the prerequisites for just and durable peace in the region.

*On 28 April, Orange contacted the authors of the report to arrange a meeting. The last meeting request formulated by the authors dated 20 February 2015.
** The organisations authors of the report are : CCFD-Terre Solidaire, Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’Homme (FIDH), Al Haq, Association France Palestine Solidarité, Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH), Union Syndicale Solidaires

The report is available in French and in English.

Orange: Dangerous Liaisons in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

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