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The Woolworths Brand Disaster concerns all WW shareholders

Brands and share value are, to a large extent, based on sentiment and perceptions.

In this case, whether the issue is about a few pretzels and pomegranates as some argue, or about people who are killed, robbed, tortured and oppressed as others argue, is not the only issue. The Woolworths arrogance is now pushing the #BoycottWoolworths campaign to the main stream media – a disaster for the Woolworths brand.

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Listen here what happened at the Woolworths Annual General Meeting:

Interview on SABC newsroom on #BoycottWoolworths

Woolworths declined SABC’s invitation to participate in this and in other media discussions.

It is alarming that Woolworths refused to meet with BDS before a court ordered them to do so. Moreover, their arrogant refusal to talk about their ethical stance at the AGM for shareholders express their disregard of consumer and shareholder needs.

indexSimon Susman, Chair of the WHL Board

As shareholders we thought the Woolworths campaign is about a just freedom for Palestinians. But now it seems as if the matter is also about corporate governance!

All shareholders, those who fight for pretzels and pomegranates from Israel as well as those fighting for Palestinian rights should expect Woolworths to resolve the matter with BDS and to uphold the kind of ethos they say they stand for.

 

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Woolworths Chair lies to shareholders in Annual General Meeting

“Our eggs are best enjoyed on a slice of ethics” says Woolworths.

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When shareholders challenged the Woolworths Board on their ethics in respect of Israeli trade relations, the board members avoided clear answers. When I asked Simon Susman, Non-executive Director and Chairman to explain the Woolworths difference between ethics and the law, he refused to comment. Instead Tom Boardman, another director, used a lot of words without answering the question.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture is from the Woolworths Holdings Limited/ 2014 Integrated Report prepared for their annual general meeting with shareholders.

When we asked Chris Nissen, Chairman of the Social and Ethics Committee to explain the Woolworths ethics, he said an external company screened their service providers and he refused any further comment. We posed questions to Zarina Bassa and Sam Ngumeni from the risk and compliance committee, they too refused to answer.

Non-executive Director and Chairman Simon Susman acknowledged that the Woolworths brand is in question. At the start of the meeting, when he announced the agenda, he mentioned that they received a statement on the boycott from a shareholder. From that point onwards, the concern with trade relations with Israeli companies dominated the meeting. Lots of pertinent questions were asked and not answered. When shareholders insisted that the points should at least be minuted the Chair first consulted with his legal team to hear if it is in order to do so. They confirmed that it is in order. We hope the points were taken down.

Shortly before the Chair stopped the discussion I asked him how Woolworths engages with any shareholder statements they received. He assured me that there is a process in place and that they have already engaged with all those who sent statements. Mr Susman was not telling the truth when he said this. As you will see from the e-mails below, despite several requests to do so, no one has engaged with me on the statement I sent a week before the Annual General Meeting on 26 November 2014:

From: (name of official from my stock broker’s office)
Sent: 19 November 2014 02:34 PM
To: evelynbaiden-amissah@woolworths.co.za
Cc: Momberg, Marthie
Subject: Woolworths AGM

Dear Evelyn

As per our telecom, please see our client’s letter attached. I have also attached the client’s email with her concerns.

Could you please revert to Mrs Momberg, she is copied in this email.

Kind Regards

(name of official from my stock broker’s office)

 

From: Momberg, Marthie Sent: 21 November 2014 02:10 PM
To: (name of official from my stock broker’s office); evelynbaiden-amissah@woolworths.co.za
Cc: (name of stock broker)
Subject: RE: Woolworths AGM

Dear (name of official from my stockbroker’s office),

It is now four days since I asked:
1. Information on how the boycott against WW impact on their sales.
2. What the correct procedure is to raise an issue at the AGM.
You also forwarded them my statement as a shareholder.

Thank you for your help, but unfortunately I have not yet had any kind of response from Woolworths. Can you please follow up with them?

With kind regards,

MM

 

From: (name of official from my stock broker’s office)
Sent: Monday, 24 November 2014 09:21
To: Evelyn Baiden – Amissah
Cc:
Subject: RE: Woolworths AGM

Dear Evelyn

I tried calling and left a message.

Can you please urgently advise with regard to Mrs Momberg’s concern’s, please see an article that was placed in the newspaper.

Kind Regards

(name of official from my stockbroker’s office)

 

From: Evelyn Baiden – Amissah [mailto:EvelynBaiden-Amissah@woolworths.co.za]
Sent: 24 November 2014 05:13 PM
To: (name of official from my stockbroker’s office)
Cc:
Subject: RE: Woolworths AGM

Dear (name of official in my stockbroker’s office)

I confirm that I have received your email below as well as the voicemail you left in this regard.
I have forwarded the email on to the relevant people within our Company Secretarial department who will determine the appropriate action in line with protocols of engagement with shareholders.
The AGM will be held on Wednesday, 26 November from 10:00 – 12:00 at Woolworths House in Cape Town.

Kind regards

Evelyn

I don’t buy my eggs at Woolworths, and I don’t swallow their ethics.

Click here for a short YouTube clip on what happened outside the Woolworths headquarters while the shareholder meeting was underway. Note the excellent comment by Dr Clint le Bruyns.

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Photos of pomegranates with double labels in Woolworths: #BoycottWoolworths

Are they from Israel or from South Africa? What is Woolworths’ rationale for labelling the same pomegranates as produce from both countries?

The first photo shows the display with two labels – one at the top of the box, and one at the bottom:

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This next photo is of the same box. Here you can see the label at the bottom saying that the pomegranates are South African produce:

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Yet the label at the top of the box (still the same one with the same fruit) shows that the pomegranates are from Israel:

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A concerned citizen took these photos in Sandton City’s Woolworths. It is a large store situated in an affluent suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa’s financial capital.

What are we to make of this? Is it yet another example of how we cannot trust Woolworths to tell (and live) the truth?

The thing is, it is not the only example of false or incorrect labelling by Woolworths of their produce sourced from Israel. BDS South Africa issued a press statement on 29 October 2015 in which they say that South Africa’s National Consumer Commission (NCC) has launched an investigation into Woolworths over allegations of false Israeli labelling.

If anyone is aware of other examples related to Woolworths’ labelling you are welcome to share the full details with the BDS office at alerts@bdssouthafrica.com.

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Edwin Arrison: Why I support #BoycottWoolworths

I feel as if I owe an explanation to many people about why I have decided to boycott Woolworths. This is a personal decision and is not something I can enforce on any other person, but I need to explain my decision and others can and must make their own decisions. If I have not convinced others through my arguments, then the responsibility lies with me and not with the other person.

What follows is a personal account from Rev Edwin Arrison who also serves as chairperson of South Africa’s National Coalition for Palestine (NC4P). He speaks from his heart and with the many years’ experience during the apartheid struggle years:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARev. Arrison featured with South Africa’s Muslim Judicial Council’s Secretary General Maulana Abdul Khaliq Allie (left) and the Ambassador of Palestine (right).

One thing that I hope all humanity wishes for AND works for, is to have a as-non-violent-as-possible resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I do not think wishing for it is enough, and neither do I believe that non-violence is something only to be talked about: no, it is something ordinary citizens must DO. If there is no non-violent ACTION, then I believe we are simply complicit in the violence happening.

As a South African, I am the beneficiary of a sustained boycott campaign against Apartheid South Africa by ordinary citizens across the globe. The freedom I enjoy today is partly because women and men across the world refused to buy Apartheid South Africa’s goods, EVEN if their governments allowed those goods to be imported into their countries. Sometimes groups of people protested with placards in front of stores and Embassies – at other times a lone individual did that, and for all of them I am extremely grateful. I also know that boycotts and sanctions do have a positive effect even if it is experienced as negative.

Today, Israel practices Apartheid 2.0 : Supporters of Israel will vehemently try and argue and deny this, but the experience of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and of many observers, is that Israel practices a very sophisticated form of apartheid. Besides these daily experiences and observations, there are research documents to prove that Israel practices Apartheid 2.0, one done by South Africa’s own Human Science Research Council (HSRC) and by the work of the Russell Tribunal. This information is widely available on the internet. Israel also continued to support Apartheid South Africa even after the USA decided to implement sanctions against South Africa.

There are also thousands of newspaper articles and videos that describe this. Supporters of Israel will want to argue that this happens in other countries as well, but in their case (and one of the key reasons why I feel so strongly about this) it is being done on the basis of some selected Biblical texts, the same Bible that I read every day. And I definitely do not agree that the current state of Israel complies to the basic tenets of the Biblical text, which is love, equality and justice.

My own view is that Israel makes life as difficult as possible for ordinary Palestinian people in order to force them out and get them to emigrate so that Israel can win a “demographic war”, in other words, for Israelis to be in the majority. This strategy has worked well with tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians who are economically strong: most of them have emigrated and now live in different parts of the world. The ones who remain are being steadfast, but I know how difficult it is for them there. I therefore find the “Christian” support for Israel completely weird and unacceptable: here is a country who has, through big and small actions, driven out Christians from the Holy Land and yet other Christians find reasons, most of it completely illogical, to support them. Right now, Israel is trying to make Jerusalem a Jewish-only city through various actions. It is time we all wake up to what Israel is doing and how it continues to steal more and more land.

Coming from a country that practiced apartheid in all sorts of ways (and using the Bible to justify it), I CANNOT condone the same situation happening in another part of the world and be quiet about it. President Mandela had a very deep intuition when he said that “South Africans will not be free until the people of Palestine are free”. He was completely right, and people such as Archbishop Tutu and many others support the struggle of the Palestinian people despite the worst kind of criticisms they face.

Woolworths chooses to trade with Apartheid Israel I described above : It must be said that Woolworths is not the only company that trades with Apartheid Israel, and that the South African government enables this trade to happen. For that reason, 200 000 people marched to Parliament on August 9 to call on our government to stop this but they have still not done so. But we will not leave it there and we will continue to expose our government’s double standards. That is a discussion for another article….

Woolworths has now been approached (through letters that I and others have written to their CEO) to stop trade with Israel and they have deliberately CHOSEN to ignore these calls. Having made this clear and deliberate choice against stopping trade with Israel, it places Woolworths in a category where they are now deliberately culpable in the continued oppression of the Palestinian people.

Woolworths’ claim to be ethical , if not THE most ethical company: Those who make claims about their high ethical standards must be challenged to live by it. This is part of the reason why I support the #Boycott Woolworths campaign

The need to focus on one retailer (from a strategic and practical point of view) : Sometimes people speak about other companies who also have ties with Israel, and of course this is true. If others feel they should boycott a few companies, they should go ahead and do that. But to be effective AS A CAMPAIGN, I strongly believe in the need to focus on one target and deal with that. You will simply dilute your energy, resources and capacities if you try to do too many things at the same time. At another time, when more people have joined and there are more resources, the campaign can be broadened to the other retailers who also have links with Israel, but I strongly believe in the need to focus on one…it is the only way that the campaign will succeed.

These are some of my most important reasons why I boycott Woolworths. People are free to challenge me but I hope that at the very least you will try to understand why I feel so strongly about this. The moment when Woolworths stop its trade with Israel, I will probably support it again. But not while it trades with a country that practices Apartheid 2.0 daily, and that on the basis of a few selected Biblical texts.

If you wish to join the boycott, here are some ways to participate :

1. The simplest way is obviously to just stop buying at Woolworths, and do nothing more than that, and that will be enough for some people.

2. Some clients can also write to Woolworths to ask them to take them off their address lists.

3. Some clients can close their accounts if they feel this is what they are able to do.

4. Use Social media to mention that you support the #Boycott Woolworths campaign.

5. Write letters to the Editors of newspaper if they mischaracterise the campaign.

6. Some people can demonstrate in front of Woolworths stores from time to time.

7. Some people can demonstrate inside Woolworths stores by, for example, filling up trollies and refusing to pay until that particular branch manager of Woolworths gives an undertaking to not stock Israeli goods.

8. Some people can write to the PIC, that has almost 20% shares in Woolworths.

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Woolworths taking its clients to court: As a WW shareholder, here’s my perspective on #BoycottWoolworths

“And you do all this for a few pretzels and pomegranates?” the journalist from The Times asked me. I do it for all those whose houses are demolished, I do it for the workmen who need to queue since 2:00 at a checkpoint, I do it for Gaza, I do it for the children who are harrassed on their way to school, I do it for the farmers whose olive trees are destroyed or whose land is confiscated, I do it because I believe in human dignity for all. I do it for justice and freedom.

The journalist wanted to know why, as a shareholder in Woolworths, I am so concerned about the national boycott of Woolworths. Click here for a link to the audio interview with The Times.

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I am indeed very concerned – as a consumer, as a concerned citizen and as a shareholder. Corporate identity, or a brand, is not about window dressing or  fancy advertising. It is about embodying the values of a company on every single level. These values should inspire staff relations and also those with clients, shareholders and all other stakeholders. The values must be visible in every detail – in products, in the service, in the advertising…..down to the state of the restrooms. Yet Woolworths chooses to take its clients (of which some are shareholders) to court!

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My statement was one of a number by concerned shareholders that was read out at a media conference in Johannesburg on 18 November 2014. I also submit it through my stockbroker to Woolworths. Thus far I have had no reply from Woolworths:

Shareholder statement by Marthie Momberg for the Woolworths Annual General Meeting on 26.11.14:

As an investor in Woolworths I am compelled to reveal my concern about the image and the ethics of the company in which I invested a considerable amount of my savings.

The Woolworths brand is increasingly questioned. Woolworths imports products such as pretzels, couscous, matzos, coriander and fruit from Israel. The real issue is not the number of Israeli products on the shelves of Woolworths, but rather the existence of contracts between Woolworths and Israeli businesses. Israel is well known for its continued, systemic violations of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories (Gaza, the West Bank and East-Jerusalem). Peaceful, economic resistance against Israel and her partners is by no means a protest against Jews, but against a systemic regime of oppression. The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) is part of an international strategy similar to the one which helped to end South African apartheid. Major businesses and churches, across the globe have already implemented BDS. They did so not because they are politically driven, but for ethical reasons.

Woolworths say they are an ethical company. Woolworths’ products are of outstanding quality and are loved by South Africans. It is the result of dedication, courage and a commitment to quality. And yet, with regard to their relation with Israel Woolworths argues that they adhere to the law and need not do anything more. Ethical behaviour demands moral leadership. Laws are prerequisites that apply to everyone. It codifies practices, ideals, norms and moral values as the minimum that is required in a society, whilst ethics starts where the law ends. What would the quality of Woolworths’ products be if their business strategy simply adheres to the law and ignores going the extra mile? As shareholder I expect a consistent, reliable integrity from Woolworths. It implies responsible ethics in line with the growing international appeal for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel. South African Karstens Farms has already demonstrated ethical leadership by cutting its ties with Israeli exporter Hadiklaim. Woolworths can be the first South African retail company to take this step.

As a person who values the human dignity of all I, together with South Africans from all walks of life, support ‘the non-violent boycott against Woolworths. With our history of apartheid South Africans have a special role to play in saying no to Israel’s decades long institusionalised violations of the Palestinians. It is now our turn to express our moral support with the oppressed. As shareholder I expect Woolworths to practice what they preach and to restore trust in the business. The integrity – and the viability – of a brand has to do with values that are embodied.

As shareholders we are concerned about Woolworths’ decision to take BDS South Africa to court whilst declining a face-to-face meeting with BDS South Africa and other human rights groups.

Corporates are arguably one of society’s most potent change agents for a sustainable world and a safer, cleaner, healthier and thriving society. Woolworths is a signatory to the U.N Global Compact (UNGC), the world’s largest corporate citizenship and sustainability initiative. The UNGC is underpinned by principles derived from international instruments including the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UNGC asks companies to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence, a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards, the environment and anti-corruption. On human rights it says: “Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.” Woolworths has developed enormous goodwill for the company with the company’s brand and reputation being wisely crafted on good citizenship and squeaky clean values. It is for precisely these reasons that Woolworths should pay attention to BDS. Why doesn’t it?

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Alan Horwitz, a Jewish human rights activist representing a group of Jewish Woolworths shareholders said:

I represent a group of Jewish shareholders in Woolworths and I think I must explain why as Jewish South Africans we have taken a stand to support the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. Israel, as we are well aware wrongly claims to act and speak on behalf of Jewish people all over the globe and Israeli actions over the last decade have featured violations not just of international law but also of Jewish ethical structures. We say this because Jews can only flourish, like any other people, in open societies that respect human rights at an individual and at a national level.

We find though, that Israel has systematically violated the rights of not just of Palestinians but of other minorities within the borders of Israel. We have seen over the last few months an escalation of quite fascistic behavior by the Israeli government and the right wing, which forms part of that government. The Israeli provocations in Jerusalem are leading to intense conflict and of course the illegal expansion by Israel of the Jewish settlements around Jerusalem are making the possibility of a negotiated and just settlement with Palestinians almost impossible. We have to say that boycott as a nonviolent response to state oppression is a completely valid and ethical response, and that is why we support this action and the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. Woolworths and other big South African corporations in the retail sector are public companies that have a responsibility in terms of our anti apartheid stance. Many Jewish activists were prominent in the anti apartheid struggle, we must continue to show the world that as Jews we will not tolerate Israel acting in our name in a a fashion which is fascist. We wholeheartedly support this boycott campaign. The Israel-Palestine conflict is something which degenerates daily, quite literally and really is time that we as South Africans take a very firm stand. Finally in conclusion, we find that Woolworths claims to be a very ethical company, that it claims to be at the forefront of good corporate practice and that is why perhaps it makes sense for Woolworths to be the front runner in this action of terminating relations with Israel.” For comment from Mr Horwitz contact 0825128188

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The #BoycottWoolworths campaign receives wide spread attention and support from various South African Government Ministers, artists, well known personalities and anti-apartheid stalwarts. To date, the management of Woolworths has refused to meet so that this issue can be resolved.

Last year Woolworths was ranked first in the RepTrak Reputation Index survey of South African companies in 2014. It was also rated in the top three of the Sunday Times Top 100 companies for 2013 and was included in the JSE Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) index for 2013/14.

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My brief oor Woolworths aan Die Burger wat nié geplaas is nie

Geagte Redakteur,

U berig ”Woolies wil nie sê wat die Moslem-boikot aan sy verkope doen” (DB, 01.10) noem nie dat ook Christene, nie-Sionistiese Jode en talle andere die vreedsame, wettige boikot teen Woolworths ondersteun nie. Dis deel van ‘n internasionale strategie soortgelyk aan dié een wat Suid-Afrikaanse apartheid help beëindig het.

Woolworths het handelsbande met Israel wat welbekend is vir menseregteskendings in die besette Palestynse gebied (Gaza, die Wes-Oewer en Oos-Jerusalem). Weerstand teen Israel behels nie ‘n protes teen Jode nie, maar teen ‘n beleid van grootskaalse menseregtevergrype.

Die veldtog van boikot, disinvestering en sanksies (BDS) teen Israel is die keuse van die meerderheid Palestynse burgerlikes (www.bdsmovement.net). So het die Gates Stigting onlangs al hul aandele in die G4S sekuriteitsmaatskappy verkoop, en plaaslik het Karstens Plase hul bande met die Israeliese uitvoerder Hadiklaim verbreek.

Woolworths sê hulle is ‘n etiese maatskappy. Tog voer hulle produkte soos pretsels, koeskoes, matzos, koljander en vrugte in van Israel. Woolworths sê hulle kom die wet na en hoef nie meer te doen nie. Wetgewing is egter net die basis van ‘n gemeenskap se moraliteit. Etiek begin waar die reg stop. As Woolworths regtig eties verantwoordbaar is, sal hulle gehoor gee aan die internasionale oproep om ekonomiese isolasie van Israel.

As Suid-Afrikaners hul identiteit as ‘n baken van hoop wil laat herleef, moet al die lae van ons samelewing met morele integriteit handel. Om handelsbande met Israel te handhaaf is net so onverantwoordelik soos om die Dalai Lama die land te weier.

Vriendelike groete,
Marthie Momberg

3 Oktober 2014