Humane Canadians (for a change)

April 23, 2009

In News

By By Amy O’Brian, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER — A major Canadian outdoor-equipment chain could be setting up camp on the thorny soil of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

A motion is expected to be presented next week at Mountain Equipment Co-op’s annual general meeting in Vancouver, calling for a boycott of all products produced in Israel.

"We just don’t think (Mountain Equipment Co-op) should be doing business with Israel until it changes its behaviour," said Patrik Parkes, a spokesman for BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education.

"Many of us are MEC members, and because MEC promotes itself as an ethical company, we believe their actions need to reflect that."

The chain, whose website lists it as "a retail co-operative that sells exclusively to members," gets two products through Israeli companies: seamless underwear and a hydration system for hikers and bikers.

Mountain Equipment Co-op spokesman Tim Southam said Tuesday the organization is aware of the pending motion.

"We will strive to ensure that the meeting is conducted in an orderly and civil manner," Southam said.

"One of the concerns we’re hearing from people that are opposed to the resolution is that this appears to be an attempt to politicize the organization . . . We need to take that very seriously."

The co-op has an ethical sourcing program aimed "to improve the human condition in factories." Southam said factories that work with the co-op are screened before any contracts are signed.

The motion being introduced at the meeting on April 30 will be non-binding, meaning members in attendance will be allowed to vote, but the final decision will be left to the board of directors.

"The board of directors will consider it alongside a host of other information that bears on the issue. This is where our factory screening process, and our own position on things like trade sanctions would come into play," Southam said.

Michael Elterman, chairman of the Canada-Israel Committee for the Pacific Region, said he believes the motivation for the motion is purely political.

"I don’t see any calls for not outsourcing to China or any other places," Elterman said Tuesday.

"It’s hard to reconcile this as anything other than an attempt to de-legitimize Israel as opposed to being serious about human rights and practices. This is really an attack on Israel."

It is not clear who will be introducing the motion or what the wording will be.

However, Parkes said several members of BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education — also known as PAGE — will be attending the meeting.

PAGE first raised the issue in February, when it posted an item on its website, saying it was "concerned that MEC’s members may not be aware of their organization’s disturbing lack of concern for the human rights of Palestinians."

Calling itself "Canada’s leading supplier of quality outdoor gear, clothing and camping equipment," the co-op has outlets in Victoria, Vancouver, North Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax.

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