Woolworths worries over staff, client safety

Cape Town - Due to increasing concern about the safety of its customers and employees, Woolworths [JSE:WHL] is considering further precautions like legal action against BDS South Africa.

BDS SA has called for a boycott against Woolworths because of what it calls the company's R12m trade relations with Israel.

In a statement issued on Monday, Woolworths said its employees of all faiths and cultures are feeling increasingly threatened by the protests in and around some of the stores.

"What’s more, the families of our employees have reported being abused and sworn at by BDS activists," according to Woolworths.
"We have a responsibility to ensure the safety of our employees and customers. If this continues, we will consider taking further precautions, including legal action against the individuals involved."
Woolworths accepts that BDS has the right to protest, but said its employees also have the basic right to work and its customers have the right to shop without feeling intimidated and abused by protestors in and around stores.

READ: Protests against Woolworths Israeli trade

In its statement, Woolworths supplied replies to frequently asked questions on the protest:

Why is the BDS targeting you?

We are not certain. We rarely source food abroad and follow the South African government’s rules on international trade when we do.

More than 95% of our food is sourced locally. The government of South Africa continues to authorise trade with Israel.
Is your company owned by a family affiliated to a foreign government? Do you fund a foreign government or foreign militia?

We are a publicly traded, JSE-listed company, with shareholders from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Woolworths does not fund foreign governments or militia.
We are concerned about such accusations levelled against Woolworths that have absolutely no basis in fact.
Have you engaged the BDS?
We receive regular emails from BDS and we have responded to all their correspondence. We have listened to them and we shared our position on the conflict in the Middle East.  
What are your concerns about the BDS?
Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and our customers. We have received complaints from our employees and customers, who have been intimidated and abused by the BDS in and around our stores.
Have you lost customers as a result of the BDS campaign?

Our customers have been very supportive. Sales continue to increase, year-on-year.
Have you increased security?

We have increased security to ensure the safety of our customers and employees. We’re working with our security experts, shopping malls and others stakeholders to keep our employees and customers safe.

BDS South Africa responds

The Palestine solidarity and human rights organisation, BDS South Africa, consider the threats made by Woolworths to take legal action against it and against the organisers of the #BoycottWoolworths campaign as "ludicrous".

In a statement in response to Woolworths' statement, BDS South Africa said on Monday afternoon the accusation that staff members of BDS South Africa have acted in a violent way towards the staff of Woolworths is "ludicrous".

"If there was any truth to the statement Woolworths should have gone to the local authorities like the SA Police Services and laid charges," said BDS South Africa.

"The fact that Woolworths has not laid charges makes their threat suspicious -  they are simply trying to besmirch the good name of BDS South Africa."

To try and suppress singing, dancing, flash mobs and protest actions outside stores of Woolworths because Woolworths is uncomfortable is essentially a suppression and denial of its freedom to protest, said BDS South Africa.

"Our forefathers fought hard for the right to protest and we will not be intimidated by a corporation like Woolworths. We condemn all forms of violence, but maintain that we have not embarked on violent action," according to BDS South Africa.
The problem for BDS South Africa is not what it calls its non-violent peaceful protests against Woolworths, but the problem for BDS South Africa is Woolworths' trade relationship with Israel "a country many of our senior leaders including archbishop Desmond Tutu and others have compared to apartheid South Africa".

BDS South Africa claimed to date Woolworths has refused to meet with it.
"We have engaged with various workers of Woolworths who have fully lent their support to this campaign. We maintain that the responsibility to find an amicable solution lies with Woolworths," said BDS South Africa.

"We reiterate that this issue can easily be resolved. Woolworths can meet with BDS South Africa, end the sourcing of products from Israel - and rather choose to source those products either locally or from other countries."

Jewish anti-apartheid struggle stalwart and Rivonia Trailist Denis Goldberg has lent his endorsement to the #BoycottWoolworths campaign.

* This article has been updated with BDS' response.

- Fin24

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