Woolworths shareholders send warning over boycott campaign

Cape Town - A group of Woolworths shareholders along with Cosatu said on Tuesday that they supported the boycott against the retailer.

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

BDS South Africa said that Woolworths was undermining their international commitments by continued trade with Israel.

Woolworths [JSE:WHL] has filed a court application against the organisation "to protect our employees and customers from increasing unlawful protests inside its stores". 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.

READ: Why I boycott Woolworths
READ: The three Woolworths products causing the boycott

"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 said.

"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.

Cosatu backs campaign

Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) spokesman Patrick Craven told the briefing 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. Craven told business people that there were more important things to look after than their share price. "In the long run, it will be good for Woolworths," he said.

Craven said Palestinians were living their own Apartheid, which is why companies like Woolworths should take an ethical stand against Israel.

He said a Cosatu office bearer had a Woolworths share and would be attending the AGM on November 26.

"Whatever happens to Cosatu over next few months, rest assured our commitment to Palestine remains," he was quoted by BDS SA on Twitter as saying.

BDS SA to attend AGM

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.

He said the BDS against Israel had numerous victories internationally and locally. "We thought Woolies would have sourced locally by now," he said.  "The movement is moving and it's moving at a supersonic speed."

"Woolies tried to wish away the campaign and stuck their heads in the sand," BDS SA quoted him on Twitter as saying.

Desai said Woolworths could have accepted numerous requests for a meeting to resolve the Boycott Woolworths Campaign, but refused.

He said BDS SA would fight the court action, labeling it corporate bullying tactics.

Desai said the founder of Woolworths was a Jewish businessman who supported boycott against Nazis. He said the company had boycotted "rogue regimes" before and was in their DNA to do so.

He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "If you remain neutral in the face of oppression, you've joined the side of the oppressor."

Desai said 50 BDS SA members would attend the Woolworths AGM. "Woolworths must end all relations with Israel," he said. "BDS SA will create environment to negotiate a just peace."

Marthie Momberg, who is a private Woolworths shareholder, said he was concerned about the company's direction with the regard to the boycott. "Ethics start where the law starts," BDS SA quote him on Twitter as saying. "As a shareholder, I expect integrity from Woolworths."

"South Africans have a special role to play in expressing our support for Palestinians," he said.

Allan Horwitz, who represents Jewish shareholders in Woolworths who are concerned with the company's trade links with Israel, said the country violated the rights of Palestinians and other minorities. "This is escalating," he said. "Boycott is a non-violent response."

Horwitz said: "As Jews, we have a responsibility in terms of the anti-apartheid struggle [and we] won't tolerate Israel acting in our name." He said Woolworths claimed to be an ethical company. "[It] makes sense for them to be in [the] forefront of [the] campaign," he was quoted by BDS SA on Twitter as saying.
Fin24 users share their views

Fin24 user Jack Beneke said "boycotting Israel is morally wrong and would be supporting reverse racism".

Fin24 user G McGlashan said: "I oppose the boycott and support Israel and Woolworths. We want Israeli goods In our shops. We can't survive without Israeli technology and medical products. If people don't want Israeli products, then they don't have to buy them. But many want their products."

Fin24 user DaCruz Greer said: "If they don't like the products Woolworths stock, why don't they shop somewhere else? Are they not going to like the fact that Woolworths stocks alcohol?"

Fin24 user Issy Lief said: "As a 78-year-old South African-born Jew who witnessed the enormous contribution made by Jews to the development of the South African economy through OK Bazaars, Checkers, Greatermans and Liberty Life, just to name a few, I am appalled by the blatant anti-Semitism prevailing in our country at this time."

Fin24 user Hussain Hasib Adam said: "I think conscious activism in South ‎Africa is growing and boycotting is becoming second nature in South Africa. This is being illustrated by previous boycotts of Woolworths for their reverse racism and now for their trade with Israel, due to their oppressive laws and their illegal occupation of land and their 'second class citizen' treatment of Palestinians (Apartheid)."

"In South Africa, we come from a history of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions by the various Anti-Apartheid movements that liberated South Africa," said Adam. "And I believe this consciousness is growing in South Africa and corporations should heed the warning of growing campaigns of boycotts."

Watch SABC's coverage of the press briefing:

Full quotes from the event:

- Share your views on the boycott.

- Fin24 encourages healthy debate and has therefore closed the comments section below, as the comments were not adding value to the debate. We will add your constructive views about this topic via your email correspondence.

- Fin24.

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