Why #BoycottWoolworths? Answers to frequently asked questions

Is Woolworths really the ethical company it claims to be? Hundreds of thousands of South Africans don’t think so. I sent Woolworths two requests to kindly remove my name from their e-mail distribution list. So far this has not yet happened and I have received only an undertaking that a consultant will call me. I no longer buy there.

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Why boycott Woolworths over other retailers?

A call for the complete boycott of Woolworths until it ends its Israeli trade links was made by BDS South Africa and the National Coalition 4 Palestine (NC4P) in August 2014. Similar to the 1980s anti-apartheid movement, the BDS movement selects campaigns after careful analysis and strategic considerations. Several retailers in South Africa have some sort of trade relationship with Israel. We can try to boycott all of them but this is a daunting task that has a slim chance of having a concrete impact. Thus we focus our campaigns and move from one target to another as we reach our goals. Selecting Woolworths, for example, does not mean that other South African supermarkets do not stock Israeli products.

Part of the reason for campaigning and calling on Woolworths to end their Israeli trade relations is because Woolworths tries to sell itself as an “ethical company”. Surely the ethics that Woolworths claims to support include not trading with companies of a country like Israel that routinely abuses human rights? We are calling on Woolworths to respect the Palestinian boycott of Israel, take the lead and end its trade relations with Israel and set an example for other South African retailers.

South Africa’s Woolworths is being called-on to take the lead in ethical retail business, to respond to the call from its consumers, to be on the right side of history, to respect the international boycott of Israel and end its over 12 million rand worth of trade with Israel.

What is Woolworths’ relationship with Israel?

Woolworths sources products and produce from Israeli companies in violation of the international BDS consumer boycott. Amongst other items, Woolworths imports Pretzels, Couscous, Matzos, Coriander, Figs, Litchis, Plums and Mangoes from Israel. According to the human rights organization, Who Profits, almost all of Israel’s agricultural companies have illegal operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

What has Woolworths response been to the boycott:

To date Woolworths has refused to make available the Israeli suppliers that it sources its products from. Sadly, Woolworths has also refused to meet with BDS South Africa and organizers of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. However, sources from within Woolworths have indicated that the company is feeling the impact of the campaign both at a public relation level and on a financial level.

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Is it a blanket boycott of Woolworths or just Israeli products they sell?

The call for the boycott of Woolworths is for a complete boycott. The issue is not with the Israeli tomato or avocado in a Woolworths store – it is with Woolworths as a company having a trade relationship with Israel.

Is the boycott of Woolworths Food Stores or all its stores including clothes?

The call for the boycott of Woolworths is for a complete boycott of all Woolworths stores and products.

Does the boycott just involve refraining from purchasing at Woolworths?

No, it involves actively writing to the store, organizing pickets, protests and taking other actions.

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How does Woolworths respond?

Woolworths is maintaining its trade with Israel (for produce that is available elsewhere) and ignoring the requests by its consumers, South African civil society and several Government Ministers. This approach by the management of Woolworths is tarnishing the image of the company and jeopardizing the share price of the firm (which has dropped consistently since the #BoycottWoolworths campaign). According to BDS South Africa this is deemed to be

reckless management when Woolworths could have, firstly, met with BDS South Africa and secondly, resolved this issue by sourcing its products either locally or from other countries. Woolworths is coming across as unconcerned and indifferent to customer retention. Woolworths claims to “believe in the principle of responsible citizenship.” However, importing products from Israeli companies in violation of the international boycott of Israel called by the indigenous Palestinians contradicts this principle.

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What would Woolworths have done during South African Apartheid?

To date, the management of Woolworths has refused to meet with BDS South Africa to resolve the matter. Woolworths says it is following government policy, but BDS South Africa says the Woolworths response is insufficient:

It would seem that Woolworths is not interested in aligning itself with human rights and ethical, responsible business practices. Government policy is the minimum that a company should respect; we would expect a company such as Woolworths to go beyond the minimum when it comes to respecting human rights and the wishes of consumers.

If Woolworths was a company based in, say, the UK, during apartheid, would Woolworths have adopted the position that it is “apolitical” (as it has done recently regarding Israel)? Would Woolworths not have respected the South African liberation struggle’s call for a boycott of Apartheid South African goods (regardless of whether the UK Government had officially called for that boycott or not)?

In a statement issued on 30 July 2014, Woolworths defended its sourcing of products from Israeli companies stating that it “has no political affiliations.” Buying from Israel, when many other markets are available (including local markets), is an endorsement of that country’s practices. Imagine buying from Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s and claiming to be “apolitical”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has famously said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.

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Who and what is BDS?

In 2005, with Israel’s occupation, human rights abuses, violations of international law and illegal Israeli settlement activity increasing, Palestinians (inspired by the successful boycott and isolation of Apartheid South Africa) called on the international community to support a non-violent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and its companies until Israel complies with international law and respects human rights.

The Palestinian-led and internationally-backed BDS campaign is a practical, non-violent, goal-orientated, focused and strategic campaign to hold the State of Israel accountable to international law and human rights. The BDS campaign is also increasingly supported by (progressive) Israelis. The international isolation of Israel it is hoped will lead to the necessary conditions for a just peace to be negotiated – similar to what occurred in South Africa and brought about a democratic country for all our people

BDS has reached a tipping point. In the last few months alone, BDS-related successes include the decision by the US Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation. Moreover, the world’s richest person, Bill Gates, withdrew his entire stake (more than 2 billion rands) from the G4S security company that is involved in Israel’s human rights abuses.

Withdrawing consumer support from Woolworths is just one part of the larger #BoycottWoolworths campaign. Join BDS South Africa and various South African civil society groups that have called for a monthly “National Day of Action” on the last Saturday of each month as part of the larger #BoycottWoolworths campaign.

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3 thoughts on “Why #BoycottWoolworths? Answers to frequently asked questions

  1. Gideon says:

    I have pity on your Marthie with all the lies you are writing here and at the expense of your co-religionists…You do realise as a Christian the chances of you being able to have religious freedom in the West Bank or Gaza is close to impossible. The looting and desecration of the Church of nativity is just one example of one of your most holy shrines being desecrated and you turn a blind eye…very sad that people of a different religion have more of your own sympathy than your own who are being persecuted by the same people you so support…have you converted to Islam maybe? If you have not…then you are only fooling yourself as the palestinians do not even support BDS…closing factories in the West Bank still does not stop you from being a target…you are only targeting Jews in the end because they are Jewish!

    Very sad that you have been so gullible and are doing the dirty work for someone who would kill you in a heartbeat…so what does that say about you?

    Very sad indeed….Marthie…very sad….while your co-religionists are being massacred throughout the Arab world…all you have time for is to bash the only country where you co-religionists are multiplying…

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    • MM says:

      Gosh Gideon, you clearly haven’t been to the West Bank or have any contact with the Christians in Palestine. I’m not taking this issue up with you since so much has already been published by Palestinian Christians and on my blog. I think you simply do not understand that I do not put any religion above or below another. We are all human and although we may think we understand God fully, we simply don’t. So some humility is in order, and so is love, respect and dignity.

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