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UK bulldozer firm failed to perform human rights checks on sales to Israel

JCB did not take carry out due diligence checks over the possible use of its equipment to demolish Palestinian homes, watchdog concludes
The rubble following a Palesinian home demolition
The rubble of a family home after it was demolished by Israeli authorities in the village of Beit Kahel near the West Bank town of Hebron, on 28 November 2019 (AFP)

A UK government watchdog said on Friday that the British construction firm JCB failed to carry out due diligence human rights checks over the possible use of its equipment to demolish homes in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The UK National Contact Point (UK NCP), which is funded by the British government to independently investigate complaints against multinational companies for alleged breach of human rights and other obligations, said it was "unfortunate" that JCB "did not take any steps to conduct human rights due diligence of any kind despite being aware of alleged adverse human rights impacts".

Still, the watchdog dismissed claims that JCB - which in 2019 donated £25,000 ($33,500) to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Conservative party leadership campaign - failed to use its leverage to persuade its exclusive Israeli distributor, Comasco, not to allow its equipment to be used to bulldoze homes.

It said there was no conclusive evidence that JCB equipment used in the bulldozing of Palestinian homes had been supplied by the distributor, nor was there evidence showing how JCB could influence the distributor.

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The Guardian was the first to report on the findings.

The case against JCB was brought by Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights (LPHR), who alleged in 2019 that they had a record of JCB products being involved in "at least 60 out of the 266 demolitions" in one year.

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Israel has demolished at least 291 Palestinian homes and 130 humanitarian structures in the West Bank, displacing 592 people, 320 of them children, since January 2021, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

In its ruling, the UK NCP said "the scale of alleged adverse human rights impact and the evidence of JCB products used in the demolition of houses in OPT are sufficient reasons to carry out an assessment of actual and potential human rights risks and impacts, even if JCB believed that those human rights impacts cannot be linked to the company".

JCB argued at an inquiry that Comasco was not the only supplier of JCB excavators, and that its products could have been purchased from second-hand sellers within Israel, or "from neighbouring countries via the internet or international auctions, or brought in by sea". 

While the inquiry accepted that the demolition equipment could have been bought second-hand due to the complex supply chain, and the British firm could not influence their use, they urged JCB to work with companies without an adverse human rights background.

They pointed out that, since February 2020, JCB had been aware of a database maintained by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which had put JCB on the list of businesses involved in activities in the occupied Palestinian territories that may have "raised particular human rights impacts".

Tareq Shrourou, the director of LPHR, said the legal charity's complaint outcome was a "key step for advancing Palestinian human rights".

"JCB is now on public record in admitting its awareness of the use of JCB products to demolish homes that harm Palestinian lives and the National Contact Point has reprimanded the company for failing to address this serious human rights issue," he said in a statement.

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