Scarlett Johansson chooses SodaStream over Palestinians

Israeli settlements in the West Bank cause misery for Palestinians - but, of course, one must lend equal weight to the joy that bubbly soft drinks bring to the rest of us.

Scarlett Johansson has been a global ambassador for Oxfam since 2007. In that time she has travelled around the world, meeting people that the charity works with - including refugees, children unable to afford schooling, and survivors of natural disasters - and raising awareness of programs that urgently need funding.

Scarlett Johansson has been a global brand ambassador for SodaStream - an Israeli company that makes a range of products for carbonating soft drinks at home - for about a month, and is due to appear in the company's Super Bowl ad on 2 February. The company's main production site is located within an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Ma’ale Adumim. It's one of the settlements that Oxfam opposes "all trade" with, saying they "further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support".

All week there have been calls from a multitude of groups for Johansson to drop her deal with SodaStream in recognition of its violation of international law. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation started a petition calling for her to choose not to be "the face of the occupation", arguing that "as an Israeli settlement manufacturer, [SodaStream] exploits Palestinian land, resources and labor and actively supports Israel's military occupation".

This contradiction between her longstanding charity work and her most recent ad deal couldn't stand - so she's chosen SodaStream over Oxfam:

Oxfam has accepted Scarlett Johansson’s decision to step down after eight years as a Global Ambassador and we are grateful for her many contributions.

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador.

Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

Who can blame her? It's not like that Super Bowl ad is incredibly tacky or anything. And imagine the free soda she must get. Quite the deal for the actor.

In its defence, the current CEO of SodaStream, Daniel Birnbaum, told Forward magazine that he inherited the "pain in the ass" factory that was built by the company's previous owners and that he would "never" have chosen to build it there himself. However, as 500 of the plant's 1,300 employees are Palestinian and closing it down now would financially ruin them, he "will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda."

Johansson released a statement last week when the controversy first appeared, defending her choice: "I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine. SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights."

Alas, it seems the dialectical merger of the two ambassadorial roles was futile.

Scarlett Johansson: she loves the bubbles. (Photo: Getty)

I'm a mole, innit.

Photo: Getty
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The age of China's female self-made billionaires – and why it could soon be over

Rags to riches stories like Zhou Qunfei's are becoming less common.

Elizabeth Holmes, 33, was the darling of Silicon Valley, and the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Then, after a series of lawsuits, the value of her healthcare firm plummeted.

Holmes might have abdicated the billionaire crown, but another tech queen was ready to take it. Only this time, the self-made female billionaire was not a blonde American, but Zhou Qunfei, a 47-year-old from China. She dropped out of high school and began working at a watch lens factory as a teenager. In 1993, when she was in her early twenties, she founded her own company. Her big break came ten years later, when Motorola asked her to develop a glass screen for smartphones. She said yes.

Zhou is in fact more typical of the SMFB set than Holmes. Of those listed by Forbes, 37.5 per cent come from China, compared to 30 per cent from the United States. Add in the five SMFB from Hong Kong, and the Middle Kingdom dominates the list. Nipping at Zhou’s heels for top spot are Chan Laiwa, a property developer who also curates a museum, and Wa Yajun, also a property developer. Alibaba founder Jack Ma declared his “secret sauce” was hiring as many women as possible.

So should the advice to young feminists be “Go East, young woman”? Not quite, according to the academic Séagh Kehoe, who runs the Twitter account Women in China and whose research areas include gender and identity in the country.

“I haven’t seen any of these self-made female billionaires talking about feminism,” says Kehoe. Instead, a popular narrative in China is “the idea of pulling yourself up by your boot straps”. So far as female entrepreneurs embrace feminism, it’s of the corporate variety – Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has been translated into Mandarin.

In fact, Kehoe believes the rise of the self-made woman is down to three historic factors – the legacy of Maoist equality, and both the disruption and the opportunity associated with the post-Mao economic reforms.

Mao brought in the 1950 Marriage Law, a radical break with China’s patriarchal traditions, which banned marriage without a woman’s consent, and gave women the right to divorce for the first time.

In Communist China, women were also encouraged to work. “That is something that was actively promoted - that women should be an important part of the labour force,” says Kehoe. “At the same time, they also had the burden of cooking and cleaning. They had to shoulder this double burden.”

After Mao’s death, his successor Deng Xiaoping began dismantling the communist economy in favour of a more market-based system. This included reducing the number of workers at state-owned enterprises. “A lot of women lost their jobs,” says Kehoe. “They were often the first to be laid off.”

For some women – such as the SMFBs – this was counterbalanced by the huge opportunities the new, liberal economy presented. “All this came together to be a driving force for women to be independent,” Kehoe says.

The one child policy, although deeply troubling to feminists in terms of the power it dictates over women’s bodies, not to mention the tendency for mothers to abort female foetuses, may have also played a role. “There is an argument out there that, for all of the harm the one child policy has done, for daughters who were the only child in the family, resources were pushed towards that child,” says Kehoe. “That could be why female entrepreneurs in China have been successful.”

Indeed, for all the dominance of the Chinese SMFBs, it could be short-lived. Mao-era equality is already under threat. Women’s political participation peaked in the 1970s, and today’s leaders are preoccupied with the looming fact of an aging population.

“There has been quite a lot of pushback towards women returning to the home,” says Kehoe. Chinese state media increasingly stresses the role of “good mothers” and social stability. The one child policy has been replaced by a two child policy, but without a comparable strengthening of maternity workplace rights.

Meanwhile, as inequality widens, and a new set of economic elites entrench their positions, rags to riches stories like Zhou Qunfei's are becoming less common. So could the Chinese SMFBs be a unique phenomenon, a generation that rode the crest of a single wave?

“Maybe,” says Kehoe. “The 1980s was the time for self-made billionaires. The odds aren’t so good now.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.