BDS campaigner Muhammad Desai has told News24 why the movement has targeted Woolworths, as it gears up for the “biggest protest against an artist since apartheid”.
The BDS South Africa movement won the right to protest a Pharrell Williams concert in Cape Town last week – 16 000 protesters are expected to descend on Grand West Casino ahead of the famed star’s concert on Monday against his affiliation with the company.
Desai stressed that the #BoycottWoolworths campaign, part of the larger BDS movement, started in Palestine in 2005, is far bigger than just a local organisation hoping to make a noise.
“The boycott is not a malicious boycott or punitive. It’s simply aimed at how we can get Israel to end its occupation according to international law,” he told News24 on Monday.
“There are various supermarket chains, pension funds and companies around the world which have already divested from Israel.
“Over 17 EU union countries have issued warnings against companies doing business in Palestine occupied territories.
“And [Monday’s] concert will be the biggest protest against an international artist in the country since apartheid.”
Desai highlighted some of the reasons the movement’s South African branch chose Woolworths as the starting point for its consumer protest:
1) Human rights
“Woolworths is a company that has in the past supported human rights and good human values. We believe that’s wonderful, and they have a good business journey,” he said.
“But surely a part of your business journey should include the rights of Palestinians, and not to buy from a country in violation of international laws backed up by legitimate human rights organisations.
“We lobby with the SA government, we work with artists, but at a consumer level, we decided to start off with Woolworths.”
2) Imported produce
“We don’t have a problem with the fruit itself, but the companies in Tel-Aviv or Haifa that are guilty of illegal operations against Palestinians in Palestinian territories,” Desai continued.
“Our problem is not with the individual avocado, the individual mango, or the individual cranberry. The tomato committed no crime.
“These products could be easily sourced from other countries, and there’s no reason to source from Israel.”
The imported produce changes on a seasonal basis, and also include mangoes, pomegranates, figs, and pretzels.
3) ‘Good Image’
“Most SA retailers have trade relations with Israel, but we obviously can’t boycott all. Our strategy is to target one after the other.
“Woolworths has a good image, and we believe our cause should fall in the company’s own mandate.”
Desai cited an example from South Africa’s own liberation movement, that of the International Anti-Apartheid movement’s strategy to target Barclays Bank in the 1980s. The move eventually inspired other banks to also support the anti-apartheid movement.
‘We are free to trade with Israel’
Woolworths, though, stated on Monday the company does not source any products from occupied territories in Israel, and denied having any political affiliations.
“Woolworths is guided by the South African government and the DTI’s guidelines. The government position is very clear from a trade perspective – that people in South Africa are free to trade with Israel, and Israel is free to trade with South Africa,” the company told News24.
“We respect our customers’ right to make individual purchasing choices, which is why we clearly label every product’s country of origin and fully comply with government legislation.
“We are naturally disappointed that the BDS wish to use the #PharrellwithWoolies campaign for their political agenda.”
Less than 0.1% of food is sourced from the Middle East, the company said, and sourced only when local stock is out of season. News24