Scarlett Johansson’s endorsements catch her in the middle of Gaza conflict
Actress Scarlett Johansson has recently found herself in a major conflict of interest. She filmed Super Bowl advertisements for SodaStream, a company that manufactures home carbonation machines. At the time of filming, she was also an Oxfam global ambassador.
SodaStream is an Israeli company with a major factory situated in the disputed Palestinian West Bank region.
Oxfam International is a nonprofit organization that vociferously opposes Israeli settlement in the West Bank on the grounds that such settlements are illegal and violate Palestinian rights. The group endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which calls for other countries to put economic pressure on Israel by pulling corporate investment and avoiding ventures that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights.
Johansson came under fire when she resigned her position as Oxfam global ambassador and stayed on with SodaStream.
Corporate endorsements are a major part of the celebrity game. When stars get so famous that their faces are more valuable than their acting talent, promotions and advertisements become a major source of income. It’s not difficult to figure out why commercial work is an attractive option to movie stars.
For Johansson, a role in a blockbuster film still requires several months of commitment, and a large chunk of her paycheck goes to managers and agents.
A commercial or photo shoot might only require a couple days of work. However, that two or three days’ worth of posing and smiling for a company like SodaStream pays off a couple million bucks, without any talent or management cuts.
Johansson is far from the first actress to find herself in a conflict of interest between corporate and philanthropic engagement. In 2009, Oxfam International severed ties with Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis after her promotional work with Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories. Oxfam International opposed Ahava’s sourcing of materials and labor from the disputed West Bank. Unlike Johansson, Davis was also booted from Ahava promotions.
Dropping the charity and staying on with the corporation was a sketchy-looking move to many observers. Johansson subsequently released a statement claiming a “fundamental difference of opinion” with Oxfam International on the boycott, divestment and sanctions policy. She went on to argue that SodaStream promotes economic cooperation between Israel and Palestine, pointing to the fact that the Ma’aleh Adumim factory hires many Palestinian workers at double to triple the pay of most work opportunities in the area and offers equal pay and benefits.
Josh Mitnick, a freelance correspondent for the New York Times, published a piece about the Ma’aleh Adumim factory on Gawker. He conducted interviews with several Palestinian SodaStream employees. Mitnick concluded that most employees were only vaguely familiar with Johansson and did not care much about her promotions either way. The quoted employees were unanimously supportive of SodaStream’s endeavors in the West Bank.
Mitnick’s piece should be taken with a grain of salt. A worker feeling oppressed by SodaStream’s West Bank policies would hardly be motivated to air their grievances with a major international publication and risk losing valuable work. Mitnick’s evidence was largely anecdotal. However, it would be equally unwise to disregard SodaStream’s generous salary and benefits for Palestinian workers.
Johansson was in an untenable position. She may very well have been bound by contract with SodaStream. She might also genuinely believe in SodaStream’s mission statement concerning economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. Either way, she could not have remained committed to both engagements.
2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for Johansson. She plays a major role in the Oscar-nominated film “Her” and stars in the upcoming “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It remains to be seen what the press will make of her in the long run, but the current controversy should send a valuable message to any celebrity looking to balance corporate engagement and charity work.
Opinion columnist Megan Kallus is a pre-business freshman and may be reached at [email protected]