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Tensions mount at Woolies AGM

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Woolworth’s board members were bombarded with questions from concerned shareholders and Palestinian activists on the issue around its policies on Israel at an AGM held its headquarters in the CBD on Wednesday. Tensions mounted as chair of the board, Simon Susman continued to evade most questions from shareholders and activists with regards to the extent of the retailer’s trade relations with Israel.

BDS SA spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the AGM was disappointing as the concerns from pro-Palestinian activists and shareholders were not directly answered by the board.

“The first they lied to was about the interdict versus the court order. We caught them out on that but also what struck us was the preferential treatment the chairperson was giving other shareholders. This begs the question of ethics, conduct of management of Woolworths when it came to reckless management. We are hoping constructive dialogue will come from the court ruling on our meeting with Woolworths before the 10th December,” Kekana said.

Alex Hotz, the head of the UCT Palestine Solidarity Forum, who attended the AGM as a proxy shareholder, said the AGM was a waste of time. During the AGM, Hotz stood up and confronted the board members on the manner in which they have received the concerns from shareholders.

“We are shareholders, regardless of whether we have a small or large amount of shares or whether we are members of BDS SA or not, we demand to be treated with respect. It is our right to be heard, our concerns to be minuted and addressed,” Hotz asserted.

Head of Karos SA and advocate for the liberation of Palestine, Marthie Momberg also addressed the board on her concerns as she owns a significant amount of shares in the company. In the days leading up to the AGM, Momberg sent a statement with regards to her demands. To date, she has not received any response however.

During the AGM when she had posed a question as to why management has not responded to the statement, without knowing Momberg was in fact the said shareholder, Susman said Woolworths had already engaged with the shareholder on the statement.

Outside the Woolworths headquarters, during the AGM, protesters displayed the dying action, calling on Woolworths to discontinue its support in Apartheid Israel.

In response, Woolworths PRO, Suzie Squire said the board offered all shareholders a opportunity to air their views. Squire said the AGM was the one time of year shareholders could express their views.

“Many members of the audience had five or six interventions and our chairperson allowed that. That is a normal healthy process. But the main objective is for the shareholders to vote on new resolutions to direct the future of the company,” she said,

Squire said she does not recognise the figures that was recorded in the recent study by BDS SA which found a significant increase in support from the public.

“BDS SA did not release the methodology of the research to me or my company. They said they were going to have 5000 protesters outside during the AGM and have 50 representatives sitting in the AGM. In reality I think there were about 50 protesters and about 10 members in the AGM,” Squire added.

A court ruling recently ordered both Woolworths and BDS SA to meet face-to-face no later than the 10thDecember 2014. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)

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