Controversy has been bubbling around actress Scarlett Johansson's endorsement deal with carbonated beverage company SodaStream – and not just because of the Super Bowl ad the company was forced to cut because she dissed Coke and Pepsi.
Johansson has ended her eight-year relationship with Oxfam International, a global human rights organization, over her partnership with SodaStream. The Israeli company has come under fire for its operations in the West Bank, which Oxfam and other human rights groups object to, saying the company is in violation of international law.
Johansson released a statement this week defending the company – which is thought to employ about 500 Palestinians in its factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma'ale Adumim — saying that it was "building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine" and "as an ambassador for Oxfam, I have witnessed firsthand that progress is made when communities join together and work alongside one another."
Her remarks only attracted more scrutiny, and late Wednesday her publicist released a statement saying that Johansson "has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years," as she and the organization "have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement." Oxfam posted a statement of its own Thursday accepting her resignation.
According to an Oxfam official, the organization is not opposed to trade with Israel, nor does it support boycotts of any country, including Israel. However, it does oppose trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank and finds Johansson's commitment to SodaStream incompatible with her role as an ambassador of Oxfam's values and principles.
SodaStream has asserted claims similar to Johnasson's defense of the company and says closing the West Bank factory would mean firing its Palestinian employees, who could not cross the border to work at a plant being built within Israel's internationally recognized boundaries. It also has posted a video of the West Bank factory, which the company says shows all its workers receiving fair and humane treatment.
However, critics say that by operating a factory in the West Bank, SodaStream is complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. A report published by the research center Who Profits from the Occupation said Palestinian SodaStream employees face discrimination and exploitation, particularly because they are not treated as full citizens in occupied territories. Furthermore, an interview with Palestinian Sodastream employees posted by The Electronic Intifada suggested that Palestinians are subjected to inhumane working conditions. Code Pink and other groups have called for a boycott of the company.
SodaStream's CEO also said in an interview with The Jewish Daily Forward that the factory's location was "a pain in the ass" and he wouldn't have chosen to build it there (he inherited the factory from his predecessor).
Johansson is not the first celebrity who has had to step down from her role with Oxfam due to a sponsorship deal. Oxfam cut ties with Italian celebrity Paola Maugeri, also over her relationship with SodaStream, in 2012. "Sex and the City" star Kristin Davis and Oxfam ended their relationship in 2009 because of her partnership with Israeli cosmetics company Ahava, which also operates in Israeli-occupied territories.