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September 09, 2015

Holy Land Principles Calls for Fair Employment in Palestine
    by Robert Kropp

Modeled on the MacBride Principles of Northern Ireland, the eight Holy Land Principles call on US companies doing business in Israel and Palestine to practice fair employment. -- There are 545 US-based companies doing business in Israel and Palestine, several of which are prominent corporations; Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, and Intel are but three of them. Given the well-documented human rights abuses inflicted upon the Palestinian population in the region, companies doing business there face substantial reputational risks if they are perceived as assisting Israel in its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Some US corporations have already experienced shareowner and nongovernmental organization (NGO) pressure for the human rights impacts of their activities in the region. Members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) have, for several years, filed shareowner resolutions with the heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, requesting that it amend its current human rights policy to include references to existing international human rights codes. And the Tel Aviv-based research organization Who Profits reported last year on the extent to which Caterpillar is involved in Israeli military activities in the occupied territories.

Also, the UK-based investment research firm
EIRIS recently compiled for subscribers a database including companies that do business in Palestine. The database describes the operations of Hewlett Packard as “a major provider of security systems in West Bank check points and prisons, including Ofer Prison located in the West Bank.”

The goals of the
Holy Land Principles may be more modest than the shareowner resolutions from ICCR, in that the organization focuses on fair employment rather than the broader issue of human rights. Describing itself as “pro-Jewish, pro-Palestinian and pro-company,” the organization avoids aligning itself with “quotas, reverse discrimination, divestment or disinvestment,” but models itself on the MacBride Principles, which contributed to a decrease in anti-Catholic discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Fr. Sean McManus, who is president of the Irish National Caucus, which launched the MacBride Principles in 1984, is also the President of Holy Land Principles. “Our mission is to get all 545 companies to sign the Holy Land Principles,” he said recently. “The Holy Land Principles do not try to address political problems. That is not the proper business of American companies—or so companies might try to conveniently argue—but fair employment most assuredly is their business.”

McManus emphasized that the Principles will help companies align their activities with the
Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, authored by Professor John Ruggie and endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

McManus and the Principles have had a measure of criticism directed toward them, most notably by the
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which argues that the “Principles fall short of the most basic and widely recognized standards of corporate respect for both human rights and labor rights. When corporate guidelines set a lower bar than existing non-voluntary and regulatory frameworks, they could be used to divert corporate accountability.”

Nevertheless, the Holy Land Principles has filed shareowner resolutions with at least four companies this proxy season, requesting that they become signatories. In the case of Cisco Systems, the organization recently commissioned
Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2) to update its pamphlet entitled Cisco Systems and Human Rights: Focus on Israel-Palestine. “The Principles do not attempt to address the fundamental, just demands of the Palestinians,” the pamphlet states. “Ending the post–1976 Occupation; full equality for all Arab citizens of Israel; and the Right to Return of all refugees, as mandated by UN Resolution 194.”

The resolution filed with Cisco states, “Cisco Systems, Inc. benefits by hiring from the widest available talent pool. An employee’s ability to do the job should be the primary consideration in hiring and promotion decisions.”

“Implementation of the Holy Land Principles—which are pro-Jewish, pro-Palestinian and pro-company—will demonstrate concern for human rights and equality of opportunity in its international operations.”

The eight Principles are:
1. Adhere to equal and fair employment practices in hiring, compensation, training, professional education, advancement and governance without discrimination based on national, racial, ethnic or religious identity;
2. Identify underrepresented employee groups and initiate active recruitment efforts to increase the number of underrepresented employees;
3. Develop training programs that will prepare substantial numbers of current minority employees for skilled jobs;
4. Maintain a work environment that is respectful of all national, racial, ethnic and religious groups;
5. Ensure that layoff, recall and termination procedures do not favor a particular national, racial, ethnic or religious group;
6. Not make military service a precondition or qualification for employment;
7. Not accept subsidies, tax incentives or other benefits that lead to the direct advantage of one national, racial, ethnic or religious group over another; and
8. Appoint staff to monitor, oversee, set timetables, and publicly report on their progress in implementing the Holy Land Principles.

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