[This blog has been published by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre]
Earlier this week, the San Francisco-based company, Airbnb, announced that it will remove from its popular accommodation bookings website all properties (currently around 200 Airbnb listings) in illegal Israeli settlements built in the occupied West Bank. This positive development is a demonstration of the necessary disengagement action that responsible companies should be taking so as to comply with their business and human rights responsibilities in the context of settlement-related activities in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In its press statement, Airbnb sets out the following ‘decision-making framework’ that it has created to determine how to treat its listings in occupied territories. The fourth criterion is particularly relevant from a business and human rights perspective.
- Recognise that each situation is unique and requires a case-by-case approach.
- Consult with a range of experts and our community of stakeholders.
- Assess any potential safety risks for our hosts and guests.
- Evaluate whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering.
- Determine whether the existence of listings in the occupied territory has a direct connection to the larger dispute in the region.
It is against these criteria that Airbnb importantly concluded that it “should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”.
Excellent credit goes to our colleagues at Human Rights Watch, for reportedly providing the catalyst for Airbnb to consider whether it could maintain its involvement with illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank that adversely impact upon Palestinian’s basic human rights. Points of clarification do however remain that should be pursued with Airbnb. Their press statement does not state when the removal of listings will take effect (a search on their website just now indicates that listings in illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank are still available). Moreover, it does not expressly state that listings within illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem will also be removed.
Notwithstanding these outstanding issues, this significant disengagement decision does additionally highlight the importance of the pending UN business and human rights database that will list companies involved in specific settlement-related activities. The publication of the UN database, which could occur early next year after a long period of delay (explained in an LPHR Q&A here), could accelerate the imperative action for other companies to adhere to their business and human rights responsibilities and accordingly disengage from activities connected to settlements and their associated infrastructure (the latter including the Separation Barrier, military checkpoints, and settler-only bypass roads).
It is critically important from a human rights perspective that disengagement from settlement-related activities, such as those taken by Airbnb and by the British multinational security company, G4S, through their sale of G4S Israel in June 2017 (G4S’ announcement shortly followed the conclusion of LPHR’s successful business and human rights complaint under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises), becomes the norm rather than the exception. We hope that the UK Government can demonstrate their support for this objective by reconsidering their opposition to the UN Database and strengthening their ‘risk guidance’ to companies doing business in settlement-related activities. We will remain in dialogue with them on both these points (please see our LPHR briefing here).
In the meantime, civil society must continue to take the lead in encouraging companies to respect human rights in their activities (for a further example, please see LPHR’s ongoing urgent action against JCB Ltd in relation to its deeply disturbing involvement in the impending demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its residents). Such action is necessary to ultimately achieve the crucial objective of normalising companies’ disengagement from involvement in human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory.