By Marjorie Drake Abdullah
On the 25th of January 2017, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Malaysia reported that items of clothing with the barcode assigned to Israeli companies (which starts with the numbers 729) were found to be on sale in Giant Supermarket’s U-Mall branch in Pulai Utama, Johor.
The bar-code indicated that the company selling the clothing is from Israel; the item in question (men’s trousers), was being sold under the brand-name Shay Shaul, is made in China; however, the company address is located in Haifa.
Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties. In fact, Malaysia imposed a trade ban with Israel in 1974. Despite the ban, trade between the two countries has been on the rise; though usually conducted through intermediate countries such as Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and various countries in Europe. In 2010, a report by the European Commission indicated that Malaysia ranked 15th among Israel’s major trade partners; accounting for 0.8% of Israel’s trade that year. The following year, Israeli exports to Malaysia amounted to $716.4 million, and its imports amounted to $23 million.
One of BDS Malaysia’s aims is to reduce the trade between Malaysia and Israel. After hearing about Giant selling Israeli products, BDS group members made online complaints to Giant; with the BDS Malaysia chairman, Professor Nazari Ismail stating, “I’m writing on behalf of BDS Malaysia. We are a NGO which calls on all Malaysians to boycott all Israeli products due to atrocities and injustices committed by Israel against Palestinian citizens. Unfortunately, we found products sold in the above store which are from Israel. They are pants under the brand-name Shay Shaul. I hereby request your company to immediately stop selling the above product.”
In the meantime, while awaiting action from Giant, a press statement was prepared and released, declaring that, “BDS Malaysia would like to express our disappointment at Giant Hypermarket Malaysia for carrying apparel produced by an Israeli company at their stores under the brand name Shay Shaul. BDS Malaysia calls on Giant Hypermarket to immediately withdraw the above mentioned and other Israeli products, failing which we will take the following measures:
- Urge the Malaysian government to take action against Giant Hypermarket;
- Conduct a nation-wide public campaign aimed at boycotting Giant.
BDS also urges the Malaysian public to lodge their protests by filling up Giant’s online customer feedback form.”
Boycott, Divestment and sanctions against Israel (BDS) is a global movement aimed at increasing economic and political pressure on Israel until it complies with international law and stops the occupation and oppression of Palestinians. BDS Malaysia is part of this global movement that now comprises NGOs, churches, labour unions, academic and student associations, and Nobel peace laureates. The international BDS movement has successfully campaigned against businesses complicit in Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinians, and BDS Malaysia will not hesitate to follow suit with a campaign against Giant.” A Bahasa Malaysia version was also sent to the press. Azra Banu, Chairperson of Carefugees, an NGO which provides support to refugees in Malaysia, also wrote to Giant regarding the issue.
BDS Malaysia stated that an officer from the Giant branch in question reported that they had returned all the stock nationwide, to the supplier. Following which, a Manager from Giant called Professor Nazari and stated that the supplier of the product was from China; asking BDS to end its campaign against Giant. The professor refused, unless Giant could prove that the original company was not of Israeli origin. Upon checking various Giant supermarkets, BDS Malaysia members found that the product was still stocked.
Members of BDS Malaysia have photographic evidence that the apparel in question is an Israeli product, as: the label on the product was in Hebrew; it had the word Israel on it; and that the barcode began with the number 729.
A statement was received by BDS Malaysia Pn. Roseta, Corporate Affairs, GCH Retail stating that thought the product was made and imported from China, management was willing to remove the product from all its outlets due to its sensitive nature. She also said that she would seek further clarification from the supplier.
In an email reply, Professor Nazari explained that, “While the first three digits [of the barcode] do not signify what country the product was manufactured in, they do indicate the country in which the company is based. This means that the company is headquartered, or has an office in that location, but the product could have been made in another country. Since a company has to apply for a GSI prefix, they simply state where they are located to receive their prefix; and can choose to manufacture their product anywhere in the world.”
Following the statement from Giant, BDS Malaysia members reported that upon further checks to Giant stores, as promised, the product was not found to be on sale anymore.
– Marjorie Drake Abdullah is a member of BDS Malaysia. She contributed this article to the Palestine Chronicle.