Shareholders warn over Woolworths refusal to terminate Israel relations
18 November 2014
Earlier today at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton, BDS South Africa participated at a press conference with a group of Woolworths shareholders regarding the #BoycottWoolworths campaign and the upcoming Woolworths AGM (due to take place on the 26th of November). Below is the joint statement released after the press conference.

Early in August 2014 (in line with the BDS call) a call for the complete boycott of Woolworths until it ends its Israeli trade links was made by the NC4P, BDS South Africa, COSATU, ANC Youth League, MJC 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. To date, the management of Woolworths has refused to meet so that this issue can be resolved.

Ms. Nadia Hassan (084 900 3600), representing a group of businessmen who hold shares in Woolworths said:
“A group of senior black businessmen who hold shares in Woolworths have instructed me to represent them here today as well as at the upcoming AGM where I will make the views of these shareholders known. The group of businessmen that own shares in Woolworths have made it clear that they are concenred regarding the incmoldreasingly irresponsible manner in which the management of Woolworths is handling the #BoycottWoolworths campaign. The businessmen are of the view that, firstly, the management of Woolworths should have met with the activists advancing this campaign - regardless of wether the company agrees with the activists or not. Meeting and trying to resolve this issue should have been the first step. Going to court to resolve this issue should only have been the last option pursued by Woolworths.  That to date, Woolworths has declined a face-to-face meeting with BDS South Africa and other human rights groups goes against good governance principles."

"For society, corporates are arguably one of society's most potent change agents for a sustainable world. The economic reality today is, a key factor to a safer, cleaner, healthier and thriving society lies as much with policy makers as with corporates who influence policy, attitudes and behaviour through their operations and business philosophies. Woolworths certainly fits the mold not just in South Africa but in a global context of a company wanting to be a socially responsible company. This was acutely pointed out by the group's Chief Executive Officer and Chairman's statement in the Woolworth's 2014 Good Business Journey. Here is an excerpt: "Our customer research around our campaigns and initiatives as well as tracking studies, show an ever growing awareness of the [Woolworths] Good Business Journey…customers interact with us increasingly through social media channels, and are a key source of fresh ideas and priorities for the business...We see these interactions as opportunities to improve our business, to bring innovation and to better understand what is important to our customers.”

"Last year Woolworths was ranked first in the RepTrak Reputation Index survey of South African companies, 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."

"It must therefore came as a surprise that Woolworths now faces the prospect of ongoing boycotts and protests. The BDS boycott has arguably already become one of the largest non-labour mass actions against a South African company, since 1994. 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. However, it is for precisely these reasons that Woolworth should pay attention to BDS."

"Why is Woolworths seemingly being singled out? The most obvious reason is that Woolworths has committed itself and its practices to certain values, for which it enjoys incredible support. For example, Woolworths is a signatory to the U.N Global Compact (UNGC). According to the UNGC, it is 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 UN Global Compact 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."

"BDS South Africa and others contend that Woolworths is flouting the first Principle by trading with Israel - particularly with companies that may have involvement, trade or some other dealing with Israeli settlement companies. By refusing to engage in public discourse over the Israel trade issue, Woolworths is not only potentially undermining its commitment to the UNGC, but inviting questions about all its other commitments and social obligations, which have become ingrained in the company and its brand DNA. It's not difficult for companies to support universal causes like promoting education, healthy eating or addressing poverty. But a company that claims to be the bastion for corporate governance and corporate citizenship, we believe, cannot simply cannot put its head in the sand when faced with complex issues and unsettling questions. Balancing the expectations (and sometimes competing objectives) is arguably the most critical challenge a company's leadership faces. From Woolworths' perspective, the answer is simple: either make a concerted effort to uphold the principles it promises to uphold, or openly move away from those principles." For comment from Ms Hassan contact 0849003600

Mr. 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
Ms. Marthie Momberg (083 290 7742), a Stellenbosch-based author and writer who also owns shares in Woolworths said:
"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. 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.”" For comment from Ms. Momberg contact 083 290 7742

Mr. Patrick Craven (082 821 7456) spokesperson of COSATU representing worker interests said:
“COSATU representatives including the Deputy Secretary of international relations will be travelling to the upcoming Woolworths AGM to make known COSATU’s position that it supports the call from Woolworths to terminate its relations with Israeli companies. COSATU’s support for this call is  in line with its support for the non-violent international boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel campaign. 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."

"Various affiliates of COSATU have began a discussion within the federation regarding the Public Investment Corporation’s shares in Woolworths. Various unions have workers that contribute to the PIC via the Government Employers Pension Fund (GEPF)". For comment from Patrick Craven contact 082 821 7456
Mr. Muhammed Desai (082 211 9988) National Coordinator of BDS South Africa said:
"In addition, activists belonging to BDS South Africa and the Palestine solidarity movement have also bought shares at Woolworths. Each of the activists have bought a single share and intend on attending the upcoming AGM to raise pertinent questions. As activist shareholders, we are doing what others in the international community did for us  during the 1980s. We are advancing that same spirit of internationalism that was advanced when activists bought shares in Polaroid, GM, Barclays Bank and other companies that had relations with Apartheid South Africa. The activists in the 1980s attended the AGM of these companies and made trade with Apartheid the centre issue. We intend to do the same in making Woolworths trade with Apartheid Israel in defiance of the international Israel boycott the main issue at the upcoming AGM."
"At the upcoming we will demand to know from the management of Woolworths why they are not interested in aligning the company with human rights and ethical, responsible business practices". For comment from Muhammed Desai contact 0842119988

Nadia Hassan, representing a group of businessmen who hold shares in Woolworths: 0849003600
Alan Horwitz, a Jewish human rights activist representing a Jewish Woolworths shareholder:
Marthie Momberg, a Stellenbosch-based author and writer who also owns shares in Woolworths: 0832907742
Patrick Craven, spokesperson of COSATU representing worker interests said: 082 821 7456
Muhammed Desai, National Coordinator of BDS South Africa: 0842119988

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