Protests against Woolworths Israeli trade

Johannesburg - Public benefit organisation Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in South Africa (BDS SA) on Monday vowed to step up its protest action against Woolworth for "refusing to resolve the issue of the company trading with Israel".

This comment by BDS SA's Kwara Kekana follows protest action on Saturday, which led to the temporary closure of the  Woolworths store in Rosebank, Johannesburg. The protest there included a flash mob outside the store and the distribution of pamphlets on why shoppers should boycott Woolworths.

BDS SA said protests against Woolworths for having Israeli products on its shelves were organised at about 40 locations in SA over the weekend.

Kekana said protests, pickets, flash mobs, till-jamming and other actions will be intensified. "People should not fall for the trap of making the #BoycottWoolworths protests actions the problem, the problem for BDS SA is Woolworths maintaining Israeli trade links".

Fin24 asked BDS SA why it is only targeting Woolworths when there are other retailers also selling Israeli products.

Muhammed Desai of BDS SA responded:

"Similar to the 1980s anti-apartheid movement, the BDS movement selects campaigns after careful analysis and strategic considerations.

"Several retailers in SA 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 SA supermarkets do not stock Israeli products.

"Once we achieve the goal of having Woolworths terminate its relations with Israel, we will then (or before) also launch campaign(s) against other retailers.
"However, in addition, 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'.

"Finally, we have launched a campaign around Woolworths due to the company’s international footprint, allowing us to take this campaign to other countries if needs be."

Fin24 asked Woolworths about sourcing from the Middle East. It responded as follows:

"We know that the current conflict in the Middle East has affected some of our customers and our employees.
"We have heard many views expressed via our social media channels, e-mails and phone calls.
"Woolworths abhors violence and loss of life, particularly of children, in any circumstance and we are deeply saddened by the tragic consequences of the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

"Many of our customers have asked if we source products from the occupied territories. We do not source products from the occupied territories.
"Further, all our suppliers are expected to adhere to the ethical standards in our code of conduct.

"We have no political affiliations. We respect our customers’ right to make individual purchasing choices, which is why we clearly label every product’s country of origin.
"Less than 0.1% of our food is sourced from Israel."

Industry reaction

In a statement issued earlier this month by the Consumer Goods Council of SA (CGCSA) the industry body said the conflict in the Middle East has resulted in some of its customers and certain retail members, including Shoprite, Massmart, Spar, Woolworths and Pick n Pay being approached, "sometimes in an aggressive and confrontational way", to remove products sourced from Israeli manufacturers from their shelves.

CGCSA said this infringes on their rights to free and fair trade as enshrined in the SA’s constitution.

"South Africa is a fully constituted democracy that respects law and order. There are channels provided by our respective members for complaints and grievances to be lodged if a consumer is dissatisfied with a particular product," the CGCSA said.

This is also contained in the Consumer Protection Act.
“Our position, as an industry, is that we recognise the right of consumers to exercise freedom of choice with regard to the products that they purchase," the organisation said.

"In line with this, we believe that the industry’s role is to ensure that the products sold in our members' stores, are marked with legislated descriptive information that includes the country of origin."

This enables consumers to make informed buying decisions that are aligned to the personal perspectives that they might hold.

- Fin24

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