Update: Oxfam has accepted Scarlett Johansson’s resignation, recognizing her role with SodaStream is “incompatible” with her role with Oxfam.
In a rather odd twist, Scarlett Johansson has reportedly ended her relationship with a humanitarian group to side with a company that operates out of an illegal Israeli settlement and exploits Palestinian labor and resources. Although the 29-year-old actress coolly credits this to “a fundamental difference of opinion,” we are left to read between the lines and appreciate the critical attention this has earned companies that profit on Israel’s occupation.
Eight years ago, Johansson signed on to become a global ambassador for Oxfam International, an aid and advocacy agency established to combat poverty and injustice. But she and Oxfam parted ways shortly after Johansson was announced as SodaStream’s first global brand ambassador earlier this month.
When Johansson signed on with the carbonation unit manufacturer and allowed her celebrity to enable SodaStream’s clear violations of humanitarian law, Johansson conscientiously sidelined the principles she represented with Oxfam. She could no longer be a representative of a humanitarian agency that champions justice, particularly one that staunchly opposes trade from Israeli settlements on the basis that they are illegal and violate Palestinian rights.
Oxfam also faced pressure from human rights advocates around the world and even from within. Oxfam staff members based in the occupied Palestinian territories expressed their disappointment in Oxfam’s management for not swiftly handling Johansson’s betrayal (which is exactly what it is). Petitions circulated online and the story was picked up by newspapers around the world, bringing even more attention to Oxfam’s dilemma and, more importantly, the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement that embodies Oxfam’s policy.
So despite the headlines saying Johansson left on her own accord, it had to be Oxfam’s decision to sever ties. Even if Oxfam wasn’t the first to formally make the announcement, Johansson’s continued attachment to the organization would be an utter violation of the values that lie at the core of the agency’s vision.
Additionally, Oxfam’s policy concerning trade with Israeli settlements splashed hundreds of news stories online and in print. In essence, Johansson’s confused priorities introduced BDS once again to the global public and shined a spotlight on many of SodaStream’s abusive practices.
As for Johansson herself, the money she will earn through SodaStream comes from the pool of profits SodaStream turns by displacing and exploiting Palestinians, tainting their natural resources, and greenwashing Israel’s occupation. Johansson went from working against poverty and injustice to promoting it.
SodaStream may have gotten away with the loyalty of a new ambassador. But a face as popular as Johansson’s cannot shield the company from its dropping stocks, from increased support for BDS and policies like Oxfam’s, and from growing public awareness of the illegality of Israel’s settlements.
In a matter of time, Johansson will regret her decision to put an incentivized endorsement deal above human rights.