Store facing bid to boycott Israeli products


Globe and Mail Update

April 22, 2009 at 12:41 AM EDT

One of Canada’s iconic retailers is facing a politically charged debate at its annual general meeting, where it expects a motion to boycott Israeli products will be introduced.

Mountain Equipment Co-op, a Canadian outdoor clothing and gear store, allows any member to introduce an “ordinary resolution” at its meetings, in keeping with its co-operative ethos. The store has more than three million members, but few attend the regular meetings.

The company has been told to expect, in an unprecedented move, the Israeli motion at its April 30 meeting, said Tim Southam, MEC’s public affairs manager.

“Our understanding is there will be a motion brought forward by someone who is obviously concerned by our sourcing from Israel,” he said.It’s not clear who will introduce the resolution, but such a move is supported by one small peace association, BC Teachers for Peace and Global Education, which pushed for such a move in February.

“We don’t think that MEC should be using factories in Israel, should be investing in Israel,” said PAGE spokesman Patrik Parkes, who cited Israel’s recent aggression in Gaza as a reason. But any vote – pass or fail – could be little more than a gesture.

Ordinary resolutions are not binding. Mr. Southam, in an interview Tuesday, suggested MEC wouldn’t change its policy.

“It’s become very political, much to our consternation,” Mr. Southam said, adding the company follows international sanctions and boycotts set by the federal government. “We are not of the view that MEC, as a retailer, should enact, you know, boycotts on our own.”

Mr. Parkes, a MEC customer, said since the company prides itself on its ethical guidelines, an Israeli boycott is a necessary move.

“We don’t feel that using Israeli companies is in line with their mandate, their ethical mandate,” he said.

The company sells two Israeli-made types of products – seamless underwear and water packs – and Mr. Southam said both companies passed MEC’s screening process with their work standards.

“They passed that process, and our people were sufficiently satisfied that our standards would be upheld,” he said. “This is the reality of being a national retailer operating in a global economy with a global supply chain.”

The meeting is set for the evening of April 30 at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre building in Vancouver. Any MEC customer who signed up before January can attend and vote.

The pre-meeting membership application deadline is a long-established principle of the company, Mr. Southam said.

“What it aims to do is make sure that a particular interest group is not able to sign up a whole bunch of people and stack the room,” he said, adding that while an Israeli boycott hasn’t been proposed, the company has dealt with politically charged ordinary resolutions in the past.

“They do come up on occasion,” he said. “We certainly are mindful of how emotionally-charged this issue is, so we have informed the management of the facility where it’s going to be held about this issue. We are making arrangements to ensure there is security on site… We are intent on the meeting proceeding in an orderly and civilized manner.”

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