/ 18 November 2014

Woolworths response to boycott ‘irresponsible’

Woolworths food and clothing retailer.
Woolworths food and clothing retailer.

Various Woolworths shareholders indicated on Tuesday that they supported the boycott against the retailer.

“The group of businessmen that hold shares in Woolworths have made it clear that they are concerned regarding the increasingly irresponsible manner in which the management of Woolworths is handling the boycott Woolworths campaign,” shareholder representative Nadia Hassan told reporters in Johannesburg.

The briefing was called by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions South Africa (BDS SA) to show its support for the shareholder activism.

“The businessmen are of the view that firstly, the management of Woolworths should have met with the activists … regardless of whether the company agrees with the activists or not,” Hassan said.

She was asked by a group of businessmen who hold shares in Woolworths to represent them and their interests at the company’s annual general meeting in Cape Town on November 26.

She said the businessmen believed that trying to resolve the issue should have been the company’s first step. Hassan said the businessmen believed going to court should have been the last option for Woolworths.

On August 4, BDS SA began a campaign to boycott Woolworths over its trade relations with Israel following the war in Gaza. The organisation said that, by Woolworths’s own admission, the #BoycottWoolworths campaign was having an effect on the company’s business.

Last week, Woolworths applied for an interdict in the high court in Johannesburg to prevent pro-Palestine activists from protesting in its stores. The matter would be heard on November 25.

Although Woolworths respected BDS SA’s right to protest, the retailer said it was intimidating customers and employees, and restricting access to stores.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven told the briefing that the trade union federation was behind the BDS SA campaign. “We wish you every success with your campaign. Our message to business is that there are more important things to strive for in this world than pushing up share prices.”

Craven said he believed that in the long run the boycott would be good for Woolworths.

BDS SA’s Muhammed Desai said they had bought shares in Woolworths to be able to attend the annual general meeting and raise “ethical issues”. The organisation wanted Woolworths to terminate its relationship with Israel until the country respected international law, Desai said.

“The boycott against Woolworths and the boycott against Israel is not a malicious boycott and it’s not to punish either Woolworths or Israel.” 

He said it was a “movement” that started in 2005 and included the divestment of various pension funds”. Universities had also boycotted Israel, he said. “The movement is moving and it’s moving at a supersonic speed.” – Sapa