Several dozen people gathered outside General Mills’ headquarters Monday evening to protest the company’s business ties in the Israel-occupied West Bank.
The rally was in response to a U.N. agency’s report published earlier this year that listed 112 companies with operations within Israel-occupied settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
Activists chose to demonstrate on the eve of the company’s annual shareholder meeting, which was held virtually Tuesday morning.
Most of the companies named in the U.N.’s Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights report were Israeli. But 18 European and U.S. businesses, including Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and General Mills, were also listed.
The U.N. report does not make claims of illegal activity by these businesses but reaffirms the illegality of the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, where the companies have business ties.
General Mills made the list because it operates a Pillsbury factory within the Atarot Industrial Park, the largest industrial park in the Jerusalem area and one of more than a dozen Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The plant uses “natural resources, in particular water and land, for business purposes” — one of 10 listed activities called into question in the U.N. report pertaining to the human rights of the Palestinian people.
In a statement, General Mills acknowledged the plant and said about 50% of its workers are Palestinian.
“The facility has a history of continuing employment and employee satisfaction. Many of the plant’s Palestinian workers have been employed at the facility for several years, working alongside Israeli colleagues,” General Mills said.
The company also said all of the employees have full benefits “without prejudice to race, religion or nationality.”
“General Mills stations personnel at the facility to monitor product quality and we regularly monitor to ensure safe working conditions, adequate work and rest areas, and compliance with labor and human rights laws,” the company said.
Activists said businesses within the industrial park are economically supporting the settlement, which is itself deemed illegal under international law.
Lucia Smith, a local organizer with Women Against Military Madness, said she wants to see General Mills close the Pillsbury plant in the settlement and reopen one in “Israel Proper.”
Pro-Israel groups were swift to condemn the report when published in February. The Anti-Defamation League called it a “blacklist” that perpetuates anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.
Compilation and release of the list was mandated by a 2016 U.N. resolution.