Home | Friday 15th July 2011 | Issue 779
Israel’s largest exporter of fruit and veg is in dire straits this week as the debt-riddled corporation saw its CEO resign.
Carmel Agrexco has long been under fire by campaigners for its direct support of illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine. Agrexco employs Palestinian workers and a Thai migrant labour force to tend Israeli-owned crops in many areas that have been occupied illegally by Israel. The wages are well below the national average and workers are often subjected to humiliating treatment as they attempt to pass checkpoints to get to Agrexco’s fields and packing houses.
Agrexco lost just under £30million in 2010, and a state bailout of nearly £10million in December 2010 has done little to alleviate the corporation’s financial problems. The company has been through restructuring upheaval in the last few years as, in 2008, Agrexco joined the ranks of Israeli state-owned companies sold off for privatisation. The combined forces of worldwide recession, loss of market share and a bad year of harvests have been blamed for the collapse, and the company’s bondholders are demanding their £28million debt to be paid. Tnuva, formerly a kibbutz co-operative owned organisation, sold off to London-based private equity firm Apax Partners in 2006, owns 11% of Agrexco and has so far been the only major shareholder voicing a willingness to inject capital to keep the company going. The Plant Production and Marketing Board, a quango representing farmers with a 55% share has refused, as has the Israeli state, who own 30%.
The UK Agrexco depot in Hayes, Middlesex has been repeatedly targeted over the years by activists (See SchNEWS 709, 666, 597, 585...). Seven protesters who blockaded and occupied the depot in 2006 were later acquitted in court after the case was kicked out, but not before Agrexco were forced to reveal where their products came from. Since then, the corporation hasn’t prosecuted any demonstrators who have done actions at the depot.