While Woolworths has been lauded for its decision to appoint a black female as its CEO, it seems the move has also raised eyebrows. On Wednesday, the retail company announced it had appointed Cape Town born Zyda Rylands as its new CEO. Rylands will take responsibility for the entire food and clothing business across SA and Africa.
Rylands joined Woolworths in 1996 and worked in the finance and store operation teams. She was appointed the People & Transformation Director of Woolworths in 2005 and was appointed to the Board in August 2006. She was appointed as the Chief Operating Officer: Support Services in 2008. She was formerly managing director for food and was appointed in this role in 2010.
Fifty-one year old Rylands serves as a trustee of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence & Torture. Zyda served as chairman of the Audit committee for Parliamentary Services and as a non-executive director of the Black Management Forum and non-executive director of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.
With Woolworths being the target of a mass consumer boycott against Israeli products, Palestine solidarity organisation BDS South Africa said they welcomed the decision, but cautioned the company “against window-dressing and hypocrisy”.
“This is a welcomed move in a country where senior positions in our corporate sector is unfairly dominated by white males. Secondly, we welcome the move by Woolworths to remove sweets from its checkout aisles, now it needs to remove its Israeli products,” BDS said in a statement.
“Some have suggested that Zyda Rylands being black and Muslim should be a good thing for the BDS movement’s call for Woolworths to end its Israeli ties. This is a racist assumption; we make it clear that our call is to all peace and justice loving peoples, beyond race or religion.”
The lobby group said it would treat Rylands the exact same as it would treat any other CEO of a company that has trade relations with Apartheid Israel.
“We will treat her as guilty until she and the company does the right thing. We hope to celebrate with Rylands and Woolworths the good and ethical business decision to end Israeli trade. Until then, the #BoycottWoolworths campaign stands.”
BDS believes Woolworths should heed the call by consumers, activists, churches, trade unions, NGOs, the NC4P and political organisations to end its trade relations with Israel.
“Not ending relations with Israel exposes the company to the risk of being guilty of window-dressing and hypocrisy. Taking three steps forward (in terms of gender, race and health) is all reversed when Woolworths chooses to maintain ties with Israeli companies, especially Israeli agricultural companies.”
According to various human rights organizations, Israeli agricultural companies are guilty of complicity in Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement industry. Woolworths should do the right thing, end its ties with Israel and source its current Israeli fruits, vegetables and other produce locally or from our African continent.
“We urge Rylands and Woolworths to heed the words of Archbishop Tutu: “Those who continue to do business with Israel…are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo.””