Early in August 2014 (in line with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel campaign) a call for the complete boycott of the South African retailer Woolworths until it ends its Israeli trade links was made by the NC4P, BDS South Africa, COSATU, ANC Youth League, MJC, EFF, PSC and various others. The #BoycottWoolworths campaign (as it has been dubbed) has received wide spread attention and support from various South African Government Ministers, artists, well known personalities and anti-apartheid stalwarts. Recently, a group of Woolworths shareholders have also backed the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. To date, the management of Woolworths (that recently bought over the David Jones' chain in Australia) has refused to meet face to face with campaigners so that this issue may be resolved.
Why boycott Woolworths over other retailers:
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" that sources responsibly. 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.
II. WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE OF WOOLWORTHS TO THE #BOYCOTTWOOLWORTHS CAMPAIGN?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 the NC4P, BDS South Africa and other 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 PR level and on a financial level.
Is it true that Woolworths is taking BDS South Africa to court over the boycott of Israel and the #BoycottWoolworths campaign? In what may turn out to be a PR and strategic blunder, Woolworths has
chosen to take legal action against the #BoycottWoolworths campaign
instead of meeting with activists. Woolworths is trying to intimidate organizers and chill freedom of expression.
Why is Woolworths is going to court: Woolworths, in its court papers (page 14, paragraph 21) state that: “With the imminent onset of the festive season and the expected increased customer activity the Applicant [Woolworths] no longer has a choice. It now has to act in order to protect its business operations…the present court application is accordingly the Applicant’s [Woolworths] only option to restore the rule of law and to enable it to trade freely as it has done until the [#BoycottWoolworths] protests started.” By Woolworth’s own admission the #BoycottWoolworths campaign is having an impact. Secondly, Woolworths claims, amongst other things, that they are concerned about a drop in business for the upcoming festive season - this it would seem is the intention of their court application.
NC4P and BDS South Africa maintain that all of our
protest actions that have been carried out by us have
non-violent. We disagree that the only option that Woolworths has was to go to court. The NC4P and BDS South Africa view this legal bullying and intimidation by a retail giant such as Woolworths of an activist organisation and consumer campaign as unnecessary. This issue could easily be resolved if Woolworths had simply accepted the numerous requests by the NC4P and BDS South Africa to meet and resolve this issue. The boycott of Woolworths and the protest actions can easily come to an end if Woolworths were simply to terminate its relations with Apartheid Israel and source its products locally.
III. HOW DOES A CONSUMER BOYCOTT WORK
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 fig or promegranate in a Woolworths store - it is with Woolworths as a company having a trade relationship with Israeli companies. Out of principle we boycott all Israeli products - regardless of which retailer is stocking them. However, BDS and the boycott of Israel is modelled on the successful 1980s boycott of Apartheid South Africa which included a boycott (out of principle) of all goods from Apartheid South Africa but also, as a tactic, called on international companies not to trade with Apartheid South Africa. We are calling on Woolworths to do what other companies did during Apartheid and end its trade relations with Israel until Israel respects international law and human rights.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.
IV. WOOLWORTHS ACTING RECKLESSLY
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. This will certainly be deemed to be reckless management when Woolworths could have, firstly, met with the NC4P, BDS South Africa and others. 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.V. WHAT WOULD WOOLWORTHS HAVE DONE DURING APARTHEID?
It would seem that Woolworths is not interested in aligning itself with human rights and ethical, responsible business practices. Woolworths has tried to suggest that it is following government policy. However, 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 South African 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.VI. ABOUT BDS
Israel is increasingly being viewed as a regime guilty of practicing Apartheid (click here). 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
VII. BDS SUCCESSES
BDS has reached a tipping point. In the last few months alone, BDS-related successes include the decision by the Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church to divest from companies involved in the Israeli occupation. This was followed by the world's richest person, Bill Gates, withdrawing his entire stake (more than 2 billion rands) from a security company (G4S) involved in Israel's human rights abuses.
Earlier this year the second largest ($200 billion) Dutch pension fund, PGGM, divested from five Israeli banks and a month earlier the largest Danish bank, Danske, blacklisted Israel's Hapoalim bank. In January the Norwegian sovereign fund, the largest in the world, divested from two Israeli companies that were part of its portfolio.
In July 2014, TESCO, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, decided to stop selling Israeli products originating from the OPT. In July 2013, three major supermarket chains in the Netherlands Aldi, Hoogvliet and Jumbo announced that they will no longer sell products coming from Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In April 2012, UK supermarket chains “The Co-op” adopted a complete boycott of Israeli companies. Last year, the South African agricultural company Karsten Farms terminated its relations with Israel's Hadiklaim in 2013. In October 2014 after sustained protests and campaigning the USA department store chain Macy's stopped carrying Israeli settlement products of SodaStream.