Coca Cola Israel Meets BDS Resistance in Bid to Buy South African Dairy

Local partner Brimstone says it is ‘reviewing its role’ in the $353 million deal amid threats of protests

The South African chapter of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) members protest outside the high court in Johannesburg, South Africa May 20, 2014.
Hassan Isilow / Anadolu Agenc /

An offer by Central Bottling Company, the Israeli bottler of Coca Cola, to buy a South African dairy company looked to be in trouble on Thursday after its local partner in the deal said it might drop out in the face of threats from the BDS movement.

South Africa’s Brimstone Investment Corporation said it was “reviewing its role” in the proposed 4.8 billion rand ($353.4 million) buyout of Clover Industries.

“Having regard to our company’s value-driven identity, we take note of the widespread outrage in respect of Brimstone’s participation in the proposed purchase of ... Clover Industries Limited,” Brimstone said in a statement.

In response to the news, Central Bottling said it was studying the situation.

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Brimstone has a 15% stake in the consortium led by Central Bottling, which has a 60% share. The other partners are South African and British investment funds..

The announcement came a day after Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS SA), an organization that promotes solidarity with Palestinians, said it would fight the proposed deal.

“If the deal proceeds, we will actively initiate, support and or join the call for direct-action and a militant but peaceful campaign, including protests and disruptions, against Clover and a boycott of all its products,” the organization said.

BDS SA welcomed the Brimstone announcement, which came after a meeting with company executives, but added it would continue to monitor developments.

“BDS South Africa believes that South African companies are attractive investment opportunities for global investors and that there will be many alternative investors who are not tainted by the violation of international law and human rights,” it said.

However, shares in Clover, which processes products including yogurt and olive oil, fell as much as 10% on Thursday after the Brimstone announcement. They recovered some of the loss to end down 4.1%. The Central Bottling offer was the first firm bid for Clover after months of takeover talks with numerous firms.

With the memory of the international campaign against South Africa’s apartheid regime still strong, boycott and divestment campaigns have a history of success in the country.

BDS SA said Central Bottling – a closely held company controlled by the Wertheim family – was complicit in human rights violations because it does business with West Bank settlements; operates a regional distribution center in East Jerusalem’s Atarot industrial zone, a vineyard in the Golan Heights and a dairy farm in the Jordan Valley.

It also cited an alleged contribution by the company to the Israeli right-wing organization Im Tirtzu and its hosting a reception for the late, former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer.

Central Bottling said it wanted to buy Clover as a way of expanding its operations in Africa. Clover has 8,000 employees and operates 13 plants. Central Bottling, Israel’s biggest soft drinks maker, produces a wide range of popular beverages, including Fuze tea and Tuborg and Carlsberg beers. It has overseas operations in Turkey and Uzbekistan.