The decision by mass retailer Woolworths to serve court papers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of South Africa (BDS SA) to end their boycott of the company may be a risky move, according to branding and advertising expert Andy Rice. On Thursday, BDS SA were served court papers by Woolworths. The papers include an interdict that seeks to stop the pro-Palestinian organization from continuing its campaign to boycott the retailer.
BDS SA will have two weeks to respond to the interdict, and have two options, continue a legal battle or withdraw from the boycott. But Rice believes that it may not be in the best interest of the Woolworths’ brand for the company to let the matter go to litigation.
“It’s usually a risky strategy. I would suggest resolving the issue without recourse to litigation. But that also depends on the strength of the legal arguments that the litigants bring forward; and if it is a clear cut case and the likely outcome is a definite interdict that would stop the boycott then I can see why it would be an attractive option,” Rice explained.
But Rice emphasized the importance of keeping conflict the company may be facing outside of the public sphere. He said when issues such as the boycott go to court they may garner more attention than was previously on the issue.
“As a general rule in the crisis management world, you try and resolve things out of the public eye rather than in it. To use the example of a recent court case Cell C was in, all of that has finished because Cell C seems to have lost the case; [the consequence] being that they’ve aired the issue to more people than would have previously known about it,” Rice said.
Rice said however, that Woolworths is likely not feeling any financial sting based on the boycott. He said instead the damage has been done to the retailer’s international reputation.
But Kwara Kekana of BDS SA, says the court interdict shows that Woolworths is feeling pressurized by the boycott movement.
“It’s a clear indication that Woolworths is feeling the heat. The court documents point out directly some of the issue the company has an issue with, and one of them is that the festive season is coming up. Consumer spending shoots up during this time … and I believe, because of the traction the campaign has gained, they are scared of losing those customers during this season.” VOC (Andriques Che Petersen)