Sodastream, an Israeli company that has won international recognition for its carbonated drink machines, announced this week that it plans to relocate its operations next year to a factory in southern Israel and away from its current facility in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.
The company's presence in the West Bank made it the bete noire of pro-Palestinian rights groups, since Israel's settlements there are deemed illegal under international law. SodaStream has insisted in the past that its business was a boon to its many Palestinian employees, and its chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, told the Independent that the company will apply for permits for these workers to travel to the new factory in Israel.
"It has nothing to do with politics; we're relocating to a modern facility that is three times the size," Birnbaum said. "But if it was up to me, I would have stayed. We showed the world Arabs and Jews can work together."
The move is part of a reported restructuring in the wake of a dip in the company's profits. SodaStream sales in the U.S. plunged some 41 percent in the third quarter, and its share price has halved since January. It's a conspicuous fall since the Israeli company promoted its product with an eye-catching Super Bowl commercial featuring American actress Scarlett Johansson.
Johansson's role as SodaStream's "brand ambassador" caused a great deal of controversy and eventually led to her surrendering a similar role with the humanitarian rights group Oxfam, which was upset by the actress's support of a company that plied its trade in an Israeli settlement.
"Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support," read a statement from the organization.
Despite Birnbaum's insistence that the decision to finally leave the West Bank and set up shop in southern Israel has nothing to do with politics, organizations that advocate BDS — or boycott, sanctions and divestment from Israel for its continued occupation of the Palestinian territories — have claimed victory.
The SodaStream decision "shows that the BDS movement is increasingly capable of holding corporate criminals to account for their participation in Israeli apartheid and colonialism," said Rafeef Ziadah, a spokesperson for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, a coalition of pro-Palestinian organizations. "BDS campaign pressure has forced retailers across Europe and North America to drop SodaStream, and the company’s share price has tumbled in recent months as our movement has caused increasing reputational damage to the SodaStream brand."
In July, SodaStream was forced to close its flagship store in Britain after pressure from local activists; that same month, one of the U.K.'s biggest retailers elected not to stock SodaStream products.
The company, meanwhile, is focusing on moving away from marketing itself as a "soda" maker, replete with flavored syrups customers could swirl into their carbonated beverages. Instead, it will double down on its appeal to health-conscious customers, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Its machines will be branded as "Sparkling Water Makers" instead of "Home Soda Makers" and the company's tagline will change to "Water Made Exciting." Its previous slogan was "Set the Bubbles Free."